Adams on Reel Women: The Cannes Sex Scandal
Four weeks ago, I first raised this controversy in my column "Thelma Adams on Reel Women" at AMC Filmcritic.com, a site that has since folded. At that time, I wrote, "I love David Cronenberg, whose 'Cosmopolis' has been welcomed into the competition and who headed the Cannes jury in 1999. I was a champion of his cerebral period drama 'A Dangerous Method,' which had a terrific star turn by Keira Knightley. But, really, not a single film by a woman? I'm just gobsmacked."
Now that I've migrated my column to Yahoo! Movies, the world's most viewed movie site, I want to expand the debate for our larger audience. In Cannes, where the festival opened last Thursday and will run through Sunday, the quotes on the gender controversy have been surprisingly subdued from the country that decapitated Marie Antoinette as part of its revolution.
The head of the boys' club: The Boys Are All Right
Festival Artistic Director Thierry Fremaux explained: "I don't select films because the film is directed by a man, a woman, white, black, young, an old man. ... It wouldn't be very nice to select a film because the film is not good but it is directed by a woman." Fremaux lacks the self-awareness that his lock-hold on selecting the films may impact which movies get rewarded and which get tossed back. In every society, the gatekeepers determine the definition of quality.
The female director on the jury: Could it be Stockholm syndrome?
As the sole female director on the nine-person competition jury, British filmmaker Andrea Arnold ("Fish Tank") got to field the "woman question." While she decried the "pity" of gender inequality, she told a Cannes press conference, "I would absolutely hate it if my film got selected because I was a woman. I would only want my film to be selected for the right reasons and not out of charity because I'm female." What she was doing, having achieved her spot in the inner circle (congrats!), was echoing Fremaux's sentiment about the evils of "positive discrimination."
The academic apologist: The glass is half-full
Columbia University professor and Cannes fixture Annette Insdorf took a wait-and-see approach: "For me, the question is less 'How many women filmmakers are selected?' than 'Do the films illuminate female experience?'" After mentioning such Cannes projects as Marion Cotillard ("Rust and Bone"), Kristen Stewart ("On the Road"), and Jessica Chastain ("Lawless"), Insdorf continued: "It may turn out that the 'female auteur' presence in Cannes this year is the prolific international actress." Having already seen Chastain in "Lawless," a strong, well-made testosterone-driven film that showcases Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf, I can say that Chastain plays a runaway dancehall girl with a heart of gold. She's great, but really, Annette, I'm not pinning any hopes on this role as a gender game changer.