Cannes’ Fremaux: Women in Film Issue ‘Like a Chestnut Tree That Flourishes in May’

Fremaux shared his thoughts on women in film at a Kering-sponsored talk.

Thierry Fremeaux CANNES

CANNES — “Can anybody say how many women were in competition at Berlin or Venice?” Cannes Festival topper Thierry Fremaux asked the audience Thursday at the Cannes Festival’s Women in Motion talks, where Fremaux himself was interviewed.

Nobody could, which was precisely Fremaux’s point. What “infuriated” him, he said, was that the subject of women in film just became a debating point during the Cannes Festival and then was forgotten for the rest of the year. “Come and see me in November and we can talk about the subject,” Fremaux said.

And even when the subject is debated at Cannes, the debate is rather superficial, he lamented. “The question of women in film is like a chestnut tree which flourishes in May,” quipped Fremaux, who also cited the journalist Francoise Giroux, saying, “True gender equality will come when we’ll name incompetent women in the place of men.”

This year, only two of Cannes competition’s 19 films are directed by women: Maiwenn’s “Mon Roi” and Valeria Donzelli’s “Marguerite & Julien,” and even then, the later was originally written by a man – Jean Gruault – for another man – François Truffaut.

But the fault is not the festival’s but the “roots” of women’s still relatively small presence in film, Fremaux argued. If only two women have opened Cannes with films and just one won the Palme d’Or – Jane Campion with “The “Piano” — well, Fremaux pointed out, only one woman has ever won the Academy Award for best director: Kathlyn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker.”

Fremaux also paid homage to women who play a key role in the industry as producers and distributors, mentioning the late Fabienne Vonnier, who founded leading arthouse outfit Pyramide, and Marianne Slot, the producer of Lars von Trier, among other films.

The Cannes Festival supports equality, Fremaux said, pointing to the Cannes jury that has four female jurors, three men and a male president, though the role was taken by two men.

Is their sexism at Cannes? Fremaux doubted that Isabelle Huppert would have come in for the criticism she suffered as Cannes jury president if she had been a man.

Fremaux also addressed the issue of quotas. “Jacques Toulon had imposed quotas for radios, and we saw the emergence of wonderful talents in the French musical scene. So we could do it in film schools; but it’s not Cannes’ role to do it,” said Fremaux.

Added Fremaux: “Cannes is a reflection and an echo to things. If Cannes is pornographic, romantic… it’s a reflection of filmmakers’ perception of society.”

Fremaux also commented on the earlier week’s dress code scandal, saying that “nobody is obliged to wear heels on the red carpet. One of our agents screwed up, and we apologized right away.”