In one of the most cavalier Cannes juries of recent years, the Pedro Almodovar led voting body closed out the 2017 edition of the festival with a clutch of awards which at least seemed justified based on a lineup which has already come to be regarded as ‘weak,’ or ‘lesser than’ the titanic competitions of yore. To be fair, 2017 was an altogether vibrant year of solid feature, but victim to the same insanity of critical disparity as discordant international voices despairingly rooted for something in unison to hail as a ‘masterpiece’ like pigs hunting for truffles. As usual, only time will tell what titles have an actual shelf life beyond the festival itself.
Looming over the actual award winners was a highly touted sound bite from jury member Jessica Chastain, chastising the representation of women amongst the twenty or so odd titles she consumed in ten days. What the actor’s statement was moving towards, if she had been allowed more time to unpack her sentiment, regards the continual suppression of women directors in the Cannes main competition. Rarely are there ever more than three allowed into the lineup, the assumed political maneuverings usually suggesting those who have close associations to Thierry Fremaux are awarded the distinction (judging by a number of actors-turned-directors who continually are programmed, such as Nicole Garcia, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, and Maiwenn).
2017 was another bust for women directed films, at the forefront of this marking another year where Claire Denis (whose Bright Sunshine In starring Juliette Binoche opened Directors’ Fortnight and was one of the best films in the whole program) was demeaned. Why Denis was not invited into the comp over regular presence Naomi Kawase (whose Radiance was another exercise in schmaltzy emotion) is one point of contention—but worse, is stacking her up against the French auteurs who were selected instead, such as the embarrassing Redoubtable from Michel Hazanavicius, the technically capable but otherwise snoozy Rodin from Jacques Doillon, and the fun but trashy bauble Double Lover from Francois Ozon.
Had Chastain been a part of the 2016 jury, her comments about women with their own perspectives might have seemed out of place considering that year’s strong crop of women performances, with Toni Erdmann, Elle, and Aquarius all strangely overlooked so the George Miller led jury could award Best Actress to Jaclyn Jose for Brillante Mendoza’s Ma Rosa (and, one could bet money on the fact that Chastain’s buddy Isabelle Huppert or Maren Ade, also a jury member this year, would most likely not have gone home without some kind of recognition).
Without a doubt, 2017 was a weak year in the main competition for women, despite Sofia Coppola being the second woman to win Best Director for her remake of Don Siegel’s The Beguiled (which received rave reviews, but to be honest, anyone familiar with the strange aura and unavoidable progressiveness of the 1971 film should be concerned with several conservative choices Coppola made with her re-mounting). One need look no further than Diane Kruger winning Best Actress for Fatih Akin’s artless terrorist revenge thriller In the Fade for evidence of diminished playing field. Kruger won by default because it was the only actual leading (i.e., actressy) performance by a woman of any merit (no, Marine Vacth doesn’t count).
Nicole Kidman was awarded a special 70th anniversary award, appearing in four program titles, two of which were in competition (and she is quite good in The Beguiled), but like other usual suspects such as Huppert (who had some choice sequences in her fourth collaboration with Michael Haneke, the excellent Happy End, which was poorly received but will eventually find a devoted following in years to come) and Kim Min-hee of Sang-soo’s The Day After, all weren’t featured enough, it seems, to warrant the award. That said, the women headlining the Russian titles, including Maryana Spivak of Zvyagintsev’s cold and cruel Loveless and Vasilina Makovtseva of Loznitsa’s A Gentle Creature were both more worthy of distinction than Kruger, each appearing in material which was hard to embrace and often grueling but nevertheless compelling.
But the festival closed with one of its strongest offerings in Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, and she should have been the second woman to win the Palme d’Or (instead Joaquin Phoenix took home Best Actor and Ramsay tied with Yorgos Lanthimos for a Best Screenplay award). A more esoteric and emotionally rich version of something we’d probably expect from Nicolas Winding Refn, Ramsay’s title was derided as incomplete in some circles, which seems a completely erroneous critique (and the exact opposite of the praise Refn has received for superficial formulations of similarly fragmented characters).
At the end of the day, the results of 2017 ended admirably with Ruben Ostlund’s The Square taking home the Palme, despite some upset over those who were gunning for Robin Campillo’s also excellent Beats Per Minute (of note, both directors were appearing for the first time in the main competition). But the Almodovar led jury did seem to have similar sentiments to the Coen Bros. and Miller led juries of 2015 and 2016—the distinction between what has taken the Palme vs. the Grand Prix over the past three years has to do with topicality. And Campillo’s film is a social issue drama of bygone years, much like Laszlo Nemes’ Son of Saul in 2015 and Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World in 2016, all having lost to films set in contemporary climes dealing with modern social dilemmas (Dheepan and I, Daniel Blake respectively). The real difference is how Ostlund crafts our own complicity within his exercise of moral bankruptcy and social disintegration as defines privilege and custom.
My top ten favorite films from the 2017 edition:
10. Claire’s Camera – Dir. Hong Sang-soo
9. Double Lover – Dir. Francois Ozon
8. Loveless – Dir. Andrey Zvygintsev
7. Good Time – Dir. Josh & Ben Safdie
6. Bright Sunshine In – Dir. Claire Denis
5. Closeness – Dir. Kantemir Balagov
4. The Square – Dir. Ruben Ostlund
3. Twin Peaks (Ep. 1&2) – Dir. David Lynch
2. You Were Never Really Here – Dir. Lynne Ramsay
1. Happy End – Dir. Michael Haneke