Last year’s Cannes film festival in the French Riviera saw dozens of female actors, directors, and producers protesting on the red carpet. Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart, and Salma Hayek were among 82 notable women demonstrating against gender-based discrimination and the under representation of women in the film industry. For the first time since 2011, four out of thirteen titles by female directors are in competition for the Palme d’Or—the highest prize awarded at Cannes. Although the festival still has a long way to go in ensuring that women in the industry are being adequately acknowledged, the four nominated films directed by women below prove that change is underway.
Mati Diop: Atlantiques
Mati Diop is the first Black woman to have a film in competition at Cannes. The French-Senegalese actor and director is making her feature film directorial debut with Atlantiques at this year’s festival. The film, set in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, features a young woman whose life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of her lover who fled the country by sea. This treacherous journey of crossing the Atlantic ocean to Europe is made by those who seek better prospects, with the film highlighting the women left behind by the men who chose to leave.
Jessica Hausner: Little Joe
After premiering her feature film Amour Fou at Cannes in 2014, Austrian director, producer, and screenwriter Jessica Hausner returns this year with her latest film, Little Joe. The film focuses on Alice, a single mother and senior plant breeder who engineers a crimson flower for her teenage son and names it Little Joe. As the mystical plant grows, so does Alice’s suspicions that her new creation might not be so innocuous despite what its nickname suggests.
Justine Triet: Sibyl
Director Justine Triet made her Cannes debut with Age of Panic in 2013, which was acclaimed by critics as one of the best works by the latest wave of French directors. Her latest film, Sibyl, is based on a jaded psychotherapist that decides to return to her passion of writing. However, her newest patient, a troubled up-and-coming actress, becomes a source of inspiration that is far too tempting to resist. Sibyl’s fascination soon turns into an obsession as she becomes more involved in Margot’s chaotic life, bringing volatile memories from her past to the surface.
Celine Sciamma: Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Celine Sciamma’s debut film Water Lilies was selected for screening in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, later returning in 2014 with her film Girlhood. This year, she is presenting her latest work, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The film takes place in 17th century France and features Marianne, an artist who is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Heloise, who recently left a convent. Throughout the time they spend together, intimacy and attraction begin to grow as the two women share the reluctant bride’s first and last moments of freedom.