Blanchett seeks a winner with durability

Cannes jury president talks gender balance and awards

by Richard Mowe

Cate Blanchett: "The Palme d’Or  will go to a film that has everything. You are awarding the performances, the direction, the cinematography and the script and the entire crew who made it possible.”
Cate Blanchett: "The Palme d’Or will go to a film that has everything. You are awarding the performances, the direction, the cinematography and the script and the entire crew who made it possible.” Photo: Richard Mowe

When actress Cate Blanchett was asked to be president of the competition jury for this year’s 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival she insisted that there would be gender parity and racial diversity.

Director Thierry Frémaux assured her that this was already the case. Blanchett happily agreed, and assumes her duties alongside four other women - Ava Duvernay, Khadja Nin, Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart - as well as Chang Chen, Robert Guédiguian, Denis Villeneuve, and Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Ava Duvernay
Ava Duvernay Photo: Richard Mowe

At a media gathering to introduce the jury this afternoon (8 May) Blanchett said: “For quality change to occur and I mean profound lasting change, it needs to take place through specific action, not through pontification. The women directors who are there in the Competition are there not because of their gender but because of the quality of their work. We’ll be assessing them as film-makers and that is as it should be.”

So how will Blanchett and company cope with what she described blithely as “an impossible task?”

“There are many awards in this extraordinary cornucopia of a festival. The Palme d’Or will go to a film that has everything. You are awarding the performances, the direction, the cinematography and the script and the entire crew who made it possible. So it will also be something that will last not only in the jury’s minds but also the minds of an audience way beyond the end of the festival,” Blanchett added.

Kristen Stewart opined that on a base level there are imperfect films that are still great. “You can pluck little clams out of this sea even if you don’t like the whole ocean. You should be undeniably moved and yes the topical nature of films in festivals come in to play but it is more important to know that in ten years time it will still stand. I don’t know if and how we can come to agree on that …"

A smiling Blanchett suggested that “We’ll fight like cats and dogs so watch out.”

Léa Seydoux
Léa Seydoux Photo: Richard Mowe

Hedging her bets, Blanchett said “Without having seen any of the films as yet we know that we will disappoint and confound. One of the wonderful things about Cannes is that you have a set of artists in the jury and you have the critics’ response and you have the audience response. Each of those groups of people might find something different so even if the Palme d’Or goes to something about which the critics think differently then that is wonderful.

“The great thing about this platform that is Cannes, is that it is an international melting pot. Every single film is worthwhile seeing in some way. The filmmakers who are chosen are guilty as charged. It is wonderful as an artist to go in an open way to attend to what the filmmakers want to say. And often from afar if I have not been to the Festival that year, I am not just interested in the film that has won the Palme d’Or but it might be the one I have heard about through word of mouth. There are many ways in which these films can go out. It is also about being in dialogue with the artists who are in the Competition and outside.”

She admitted to being cautious about sitting in judgement on such a veteran as Jean-Luc Godard (back in Cannes with The Image Book). “It is very difficult not to bring in his body of work to the table yet he continues to experiment. Who knows what this experiment will be? It its hard to sit in judgement and that is going to be the most challenging and painful process. It is a level playing field and you should remove everyone’s names. We aim to have a genuinely open mind, and to deal not with the past but the present.”

Kristen Stewart
Kristen Stewart Photo: Richard Mowe

Blanchett found there was no dichotomy between glamour and the image of women. “Being attractive does not preclude being intelligent. This is by its nature a glamorous and spectacular festival full of joie de vivre. It is also full of discord and disharmony because doing great work is not always going to be harmonious. We are not all going to be in concord and agreement because the world would be terribly boring if that was the case. Those aspects of the Festival - the red carpet and the glamour - are to be enjoyed in a fair and equitable way.”

And with that riposte she lead the jury to the exit and the start of the task in hand, including tonight’s opening Competition title, Nobody Knows by Asghar Farhadi.

All will be revealed at the prize ceremony which unfurls on 19 May.

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