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Jessica Chastain Blasts 'Disturbing' Representation of Women at Cannes

Jessica Chastain Blasts 'Disturbing' Representation of Women at Cannes

Jessica Chastain

Chastain was one of several women who called out the film industry for its sorry lack of female representation.

As the Cannes Film Festival wrapped Sunday and Swedish director Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure) picked up the top prize, the Palme d'Or, for his film The Square, and the AIDS activism drama 120 Beats Per Minute, from director Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys), landed the Grand Prix, actress and Cannes juror Jessica Chastain spoke with extreme dismay and candor about the portrayal of women in film, according to The Guardian.

"This is the first time I've watched 20 films in 10 days and I love movies. And the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women from the female characters that I saw represented," Chastain said at a press conference. "And it was quite disturbing to me, to be honest."

The representation of women in Hollywood has become a yearly discussion during awards season, when well-intended journalists sit around a table with the year's top actresses and ask them, rather than the producers, why they think there aren't better roles for women, but Chastain delivered a much needed, blunt excoriation of male-centric filmmaking on the world stage. She went on to remark that not all of the films she screened presented "disturbing" depictions of women.

"There were some exceptions, I will say, but for the most part I was surprised with the representation of female characters on-screen in these films," Chastain said. "And I do hope that when we include more female storytellers we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day-to-day life -- ones that are proactive, have their own agencies, don't just react to the men around them. ... They have their own point of view."

This year the jury at Cannes broke a long-held tradition of awarding men the directing prize and honored Sofia Coppola with Best Director for The Beguiled, making her the second woman in the history of the festival and the first in more than half a century to win it -- director Yuliya Solntseva took the prize in 1961 for her World War II movie The Story of the Flaming Years. While it appears to be some sign of progress that Coppola, an award-worthy auteur in her own right despite the access afforded by being Francis Ford Coppola's daughter, landed the directing award, her win also highlights the chronic lack of attention paid to movies by, for, and about women.

Earlier in the week at Cannes, director Jane Campion, the only female filmmaker to win the Palme d'Or in the 70-year history of the festival, expressed her outrage at the statistic. "Too long! Twenty-four years! And before that, there was no one. It's insane," she said, according to Vulture.

To be accurate, actresses Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos were awarded the Palme alongside their Blue Is the Warmest Color director Abdellatif Kechiche in 2013, which still makes Campion the only filmmaker to win the prize, but even then, she shared the honor with director Chen Kaige since her film that year, The Piano, and his, Farewell My Concubine, tied for the honor.

There was an uproar in 2016 when many believed that German filmmaker Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann was a shoo-in for the Palme, but that jury gave it to Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake, a decision that continues to irk Campion, who said she's still "annoyed" that Ade's film was snubbed.

"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," Campion said, which turned out to be a pipe dream. But Ade returned this year as part of the jury, where she added to the conversation Chastain started.

"We all want the film business to reflect modern society and the way it is now...," Ade said. "We're still not there. I also agree. We're missing a lot of stories that might tell.

At a 70th anniversary celebration in honor of the festival Campion stood out as the lone female filmmaker to have won the Palme amid the likes of male winners including David Lynch, Pedro Almodovar, Roman Polanski, Michael Haneke, Loach, and more, Vulture reports. The disconnect between real life and the representation and acceptance of women in the film industry was so glaring that the event's hostess, Isabelle Huppert, did not mince words.

"Seventy years of Cannes, 76 Palmes d'Or, only one of which has gone to a woman ... No comment."

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Tracy E. Gilchrist