The Cannes Film Festival came to a close on Sunday in a history-defining moment when Sofia Coppola scooped the Best Director award for The Beguiled, making her only the second woman to win the prize in the festival’s 70-year history.
For the past 56 years, men have dominated the category with the last – and until now the only – female winner being Soviet filmmaker Yuliya Solntseva for The Chronicle of Flaming Years in 1961.
The Beguiled is a feminist remake of a 1971 Clint Eastwood film of the same name.
Set during the Civil War, the story follows an injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) who finds himself rescued from the verge of death by 12-year-old Amy (Oona Laurence). The little girl takes him to her boarding school in rural Mississippi, the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies, where the eponymous headmistress (Nicole Kidman) reluctantly agrees to take him in and nurse him until he’s well again.
McBurney soon cons his way into the hearts of the women around him, including Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning), transforming the school’s sexually-repressed atmosphere into one of jealousy and deceit. And it isn’t long before students and teachers begin to turn on one another, and, eventually, on him….
While the win is undoubtedly a triumph for women across the film industry, French actress Isabelle Huppert was quick to point out that Coppola’s success in fact highlights the gender imbalance that is notorious throughout the cinematic world, with only one female director being awarded the top prize, the Palme d’Or, since the French film festival began.
“70 Years, 76 Palme d’ors, but only one has gone to a woman — no comment,” said Huppert to a standing ovation, referring to the sole female winner of the festival’s top prize, Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993.
Even then, Campion had to share the prize with male director Chen Kaige for Farewell My Concubine.
Strictly speaking, there have been two other female recipients of the prize as, in an unorthodox move, actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux were also awarded the Palme d'Or as the lead actresses of Blue Is the Warmest Colour alongside director Abdellatif Kechiche in 2013 in a nod to their contribution towards the film’s ultimate success.
Speaking to The Vulture, Campion herself chimed in on the matter, lamenting the lack of female winners of the festival’s most coveted prize.
“Too long! Twenty-four years! And before that, there was no one. It’s insane,” she said. “And I’m really annoyed that the director-ess from Toni Erdmann [Maren Ade] didn’t win last time. I thought, Finally, a buddy. No. No! There’s no more guys winning. That’s it. It’s just going to be women winning from now on.”
The lack of female directors working at the top of the industry is notable, with a recent study by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism finding that between 2007 and 2015, only 4.1% of directors of top films were female.
Nicole Kidman, who was recognised for her work with the special 70th Anniversary Jury Prize, is working to change these statistics by pledging to work with a female director every 18 months.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald she said, “that’s the only way the statistics are going to change— when other women start to say, ‘I’m only going to choose a woman now.’”
In the meantime, we’re right behind Elle Fanning in celebrating Coppola’s success...
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Images: Rex Features