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‘Me Too’ dominates discussion at Cannes

May 23,2018
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Actress Asia Argento, left, speaks about being raped by Harvey Weinstein as she stands with jury member Ava Duvernay during the closing ceremony of the 71st Cannes Film Festival Saturday. [AP/YONHAP]
CANNES, France — Fifty years after filmmakers shut down the Cannes Film Festival, the prestigious Cote d’Azur extravaganza was again shook by upheaval.

From the start to the finish, the 71st Cannes was dominated by protest and petition for gender equality, culminating in the extraordinary sight at the festival’s closing ceremony Saturday of Italian filmmaker and Harvey Weinstein accuser Asia Argento vowing to bring sexual predators in the film industry to justice.

“You know who you are,’’ Argento told the audience. “But more importantly, we know who you are. And we’re not going to allow you to get away with it any longer.’’

Argento’s excoriating speech had all the more effect because it was at Cannes 21 years ago that Weinstein raped her, she has said. Weinstein, for decades a ubiquitous fixture of the festival, has denied allegations of non-consensual sex. Declaring that Weinstein would never again set foot at the Cannes Film Festival — “his hunting ground,’’ she said — Argento’s speech was the final salvo in a festival bombarded by demands for change.

The festival wrapped Saturday after 12 turbulent days of soul-searching and cinema and was defined as much by who wasn’t there as who was. Weinstein, of course, was absent. So too was Netflix, which pulled its films from Cannes after the festival ruled films must have theatrical distribution in France to compete in Cannes’ main slate.

With a few notable exceptions like Spike Lee’s Grand Prix-winning, rousingly received Ku Klux Klan drama “BlacKkKlansman,’’ American films were also largely AWOL, a casualty partly of Hollywood’s increasing focus on a fall-festival launching pad for Oscar hopefuls. Selfies were banned, as was, back in Kenya, the lesbian drama “Rafiki,’’ the country’s first film at Cannes.

Seats were left poignantly vacant for two filmmakers in competition, Iran’s Jafar Panahi and Russia’s Kirill Serebrennikov, whose home countries have prohibited either from traveling. The French filmmaking legend Jean-Luc Godard, who spearheaded the protests in 1968 that shut down Cannes amid nationwide strikes, didn’t attend but called in via FaceTime. He still walked away with a first-time award that the jury dubbed the “Palme d’Or Speurociale.’’

And yet among the glaring absences, there were powerful presences. There were only three films directed by women among the 21 films in competition, but each was among the most talked-about films at the festival. Two of them took home awards: Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki’s neo-realistic child poverty drama “Capernaum,’’ which won the Jury Prize, and Italian director Alice Rohrwacher’s farm boy fable “Happy as Lazzaro,’’ which tied with Panahi’s “Three Faces’’ for best screenplay.

Perhaps the festival’s most indelible moment came ahead of the premiere of French filmmaker Eva Husson’s “Girls of the Sun,’’ which is about a Kurdish battalion of women soldiers. Eighty-two women together walked the red carpet and stood on the Palais steps to, as Cannes’ Artist Director Thierry Fremaux said, “affirm their presence.’’ Their number reflected the sum total of female directors whose films have played in competition in Cannes’ 71-year history.

“Women are not a minority in the world, and yet our industry says the opposite,’’ said jury president Cate Blanchett and, in French, Agnes Varda, from the top of the Palais steps: “The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb.’’

Issues of gender equality are especially acute in Cannes. With elaborate red-carpet pageantry, Cannes is a massive, formally attired expression of tradition. As Christopher Nolan said, introducing his glorious restoration of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,’’ Cannes is “the festival that cares the most about the history of cinema and the traditions of cinema.’’

But, critics say, Cannes has remained too male. Only one female filmmaker (Jane Campion in 1993 for “The Piano’’) has won the Palme. The inclusion in this year’s program of Lars von Trier, the Danish provocateur previously declared “persona non grata’’ at Cannes, was evidence to some that Cannes remains too much in the thrall of male auteurs.

AP