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Women take center stage at Cannes fest

/ 01:03 AM May 17, 2015

CANNES—The Cannes International Film Festival eschewed its usual blockbuster kickoff on Wednesday, opening with a gritty French film that marks only the second time a female director has won the coveted first slot.

Normally reserved for flashy hits such as “Moulin Rouge” or “The Fifth Element,” the opening selection this year is “Standing Tall,” starring French icon Catherine Deneuve.

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Director Emmanuelle Bercot, little known outside her native France, is the first woman to open the world’s most famous film fest since Diane Kurys in 1987 for her film “A Man in Love.”

The pace will pick up quickly over the coming 12 days, with a number of high-octane extravaganzas, including “Mad Max: Fury Road” starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, China’s “The Assassin” and Japan’s “Yakuza Apocalypse.”

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Under fire

The festival has come under fire in recent years for failing to give much representation to women, and this year’s top Palme d’Or competition again features only two female directors—the same as last year—out of 19 selections.

They are French actresses-turned-directors Valérie Donzelli and Maïwenn, part of a particularly strong showing for France which has five films up for the Palme.

But women appear to be more central to other parts of the lineup this year.

Legendary director Agnès Varda—who made her name during the French New Wave of the 1960s—will become the first woman to be awarded an honorary Palme d’Or.

Oscar winner Natalie Portman is presenting a special screening of her directorial debut “A Tale of Love and Darkness” about the early years of Israel.

The jury this year is led by US indie favorites Joel and Ethan Coen, who won the Palme in 1991 for “Barton Fink.”

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They promised to try to confuse the jury, which includes stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller and Sophie Marceau. “We fully intend to give them contradictory orders, and then see what happens,” Ethan joked.

Typically eclectic

They will judge a typically eclectic selection that includes Matthew McConaughey in “The Sea of Trees,” Michael Fassbender risking the cursed role of “Macbeth,” and Cate Blanchett in “Carol,” teaming up again with Todd Haynes who directed her Oscar-nominated turn as Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.”

“Carol” is another female-centered film, telling the story of a love affair between two women, played by Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

“Midrange films with women at the center are tricky to finance,” Blanchett told Vanity Fair recently. “There are a lot of people laboring under the misapprehension that people don’t want to see them, which isn’t true.”

Among the highlights appearing outside the competition are Woody Allen’s latest, “Irrational Man,” and a new Pixar animated movie called “Inside Out.”

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TAGS: Cannes, Cannes International Film Festival, Cate Blanchett, Emmanuelle Bercot, film festival, Maïwenn, Valérie Donzelli, Women
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