Good Morning, Cannes: The Festival Has Female Troubles, Again

There's only one film directed by a woman in the main competition – and the critics weren’t kind to that film, “A Castle in Italy”

Last Updated: July 24, 2014 @ 12:42 PM

It wouldn’t seem like a real Cannes Film Festival without the question coming up: Where are all the women directors?

One film directed by a woman, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s “A Castle in Italy” (“Un Chateau en Italie”), is screening in the main competition. That’s one more than was chosen in 2010 or in 2012.

Only once in the last four years did the Cannes competition have a significant female presence; that happened in 2011, when Naomi Kawase’s “Hanezu,” Julia Leigh’s “Sleeping Beauty,” Maiwenn’s “Polisse” and Lynne Ramsay‘s “We Need to Talk About Kevin” were chosen.

In 2010, the complete absence of women directors prompted a petition that gathered more than 1,000 signatures. Last year, the same lack of representation led to an open letter that stated, “Men are fond of depth in women, but only in their cleavage.”

Getty ImagesThat history hung over Monday’s debut of “A Castle in Italy,” putting Bruni Tedeschi (left) in the unenviable position of being her gender’s sole representative among the 20 competition films. And the verdict was not kind. 

“Overwrought yet curiously flat,” tweeted Total Film.

“The film sacrifices emotional verisimilitude in favor of artsy mannerism,” wrote David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter.

“Meant to be adorably screwball but more often than not just proves exasperating,” added Tim Grierson at Screen Daily.

A few reviewers were kinder (Variety’s Scott Foundas called it a “low-key but pleasing arthouse item” and insisted it was “more than a mere affirmative-action entry” in the festival), and the film reportedly received a warm ovation at its gala premiere. But the film seemed to annoy more people than it charmed, and it left a number of festivalgoers wondering about the main competition’s troubling relationship with woman directors.

With iconic director Claire Denis dropped into the Un Certain Regard sidebar (which is 44 percent female, as opposed to the main competition’s five percent), In Contention’s Guy Lodge summed up the thoughts of many when he sarcastically tweeted, “Well, these reports on [“A Castle in Italy”] suggest Thierry Fremaux really went with the right female director in competition. Claire Denis who?”

Then again, if you were looking for good movies, Monday was perhaps not the best day to be traipsing around Cannes at all.

The first film that debuted in the main competition, Takashi Miike’s “Shield of Straw,” drew the first boos of the festival at its morning press screening. TheWrap’s Sasha Stone thought the reaction was due less to the film’s quality than the director’s refusal to pander to his bloodthirsty cult, though she admitted that it was “more … a noble experiment” than a satisfying film.

Others were less kind:  Kevin Jagernauth at the Playlist called it “a tedious, dumb, so-bad-it’s-almost-funny procedural” and “a thoroughly below average genre flick that’s empty on ideas and entertainment value.”

Getty ImagesAnd over in Un Certain Regard, actor-writer-student-teacher-author-painter-host-director James Franco debuted his adaptation of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” winning points for ambition.

In fact, nearly every critic who wrote about the film saluted Franco for attempting to make a movie out of a dense novel that shifts its viewpoint with each chapter. And nearly every critic said that Franco’s version, with its mumbled dialogue and its liberal use of split screen, doesn’t really work.

“Franco’s approach to the task is bold and yields some startlingly beautiful sequences but, as feature length drama, it is also lumpy and very uneven,” wrote Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent.

Kev Geoghegan from the BBC mentioned the dozens of walkouts during  a screening, but added, “If the film is a failure, it is at least an admirable one.”

Concluded Lodge: “[T]he task of creating a film even obliquely equal to the rageful literary brazenness of Faulkner remains a hopeless task that Franco, with nothing to lose, should have attacked with the hell-for-leather eccentricity of his more gleefully silly performances and art pieces; ‘As I Lay Dying’ is the rare film that might have been better for being a bigger failure.”

Apparently, it’s not just the movies that are disappointing at Cannes – the party music isn’t so great either, at least not according to Jeff Wells. Wells wrote that he was planning to go to a party for the James Toback film “Seduced and Abandoned,” but he got so fed up hearing the DJ at a party next door playing what he called “GODAWFUL DISCO HAMMERHEAD MUSIC” and “DROOLING VAMPIRE FANG DEMON HELL FART SOUNDS” that he says he left. Then one of his readers pointed out that his video showed he was hearing house music, not disco, and another suggested that he hear some death metal, deathgrind or thrash metal to hear what drooling vampire fang demon hell fart sounds are really like.

Maybe Wells (and a lot of others) would prefer a show of the folk music from the Coen brothers “Inside Llewyn Davis.” According to the film’s music director, T Bone Burnett, the music will go live later this year, not with a tour, but with “a series of shows.” The film’s music ranges from old folk songs like “Dink’s Song” to newly-written material put together by Burnett in collaboration with the likes of Marcus Mumford, Justin Timberlake and the movie’s star, Oscar Isaac.

“I don’t know when we’re supposed to talk about this,” he said to HitFix.