It is no secret that Cannes has had an uneasy relationship with gender parity, responding to the increased demand for diverse films with minor changes. The festival’s director, Thierry Frémaux, came under fire for this at the opening press conference, with his frankly inaccurate claim: “There have never been so many women directors in the official selection because there have never been so many women directors in the industry as a whole.” Cue slow applause. That said, records have been broken on the Croisette this year. There are 25 per cent more female film-makers in main competition than in 2018 and one of them, Mati Diop, became the first black woman to contend for the Palme d'Or. Here, we celebrate some of the best movies from women at Cannes.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The French director Céline Sciamma has always been fascinated with image-making as a cornerstone of identity, showing her characters reinventing themselves in terms of gender (as in the trans drama Tomboy) and social currency (illustrated by the female gang in Girlhood). Now, her delicate 18th-century drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire – which showcases an all-female cast – fashions its heroine through painting. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) has been commissioned to render Héloïse (the double César winner Adèle Haenel) on canvas after a male artist failed to be up to the task. By dint of spending time together, the women’s relationship gradually evolves into a gentle romance, captured in tender intimacy – a shot of Marianne sketching herself from a mirror propped up against her lover’s abdomen is a particular stand out. With its careful examination of contemporary concerns (including reproductive rights and the plight of female artists), Portraithas been one of the buzziest titles on the Croisette. It could very well go home with the Palme d’Or tomorrow (about time too, seeing as the first and last time a female director won the award was in 1993).