Jodie’s turn to take the honours

Ultimate Cannes accolade decades after Taxi Driver hit the Riviera

by Richard Mowe

Guest of honour Jodie Foster lines up with her Cannes accolade alongside Spanish veteran Pedro Almodóvar and Parasite director Bong Joon Ho (Photo Festival de Cannes
Guest of honour Jodie Foster lines up with her Cannes accolade alongside Spanish veteran Pedro Almodóvar and Parasite director Bong Joon Ho (Photo Festival de Cannes Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival/© Valery Hache/AFP
Jodie Foster has an unimpeachable history with the Cannes Film Festival It’s quite a record going back to the time when her 13-year-old self attended the world premiere in 1976 of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver which won the Palme d’Or.

Now back on the Riviera, aged 58, with her partner since 2014 Alexandra Hedison, a photographer, clearly she was in her element as she received an honorary Palme d’Or at the opening ceremony from Parasite director Bong Joon Ho, Spanish veteran Pedro Almodóvar and Jury President Spike Lee.

Foster who speaks impeccable French, deftly used her linguistic skills for an hour-long encounter yesterday (7 July) before an appreciative audience who heard how her mother tried to dissuade her from launching forth into directing after she won a best actress Oscar for The Accused.

“My mother told me it was a very bad idea to be a director. I was at the height of my acting career and at that moment I could make the most money. So according to her it was a bad choice, “ she said.

Foster despite the vagaries of being a director and a producer feels she made the right choice. She has remained happy and creatively fulfilled. She reflected: “We did some beautiful films, it was a very creative time for me to be able to create my own vision with myself and other directors. But sometimes, I viewed this as a kind of failure because I didn’t make huge films that had tremendous box office receipts.” Although she remains proud of her work she is also sensitive to what she termed “failure” in a commercial sense.

Jodie Foster: 'I am flattered that Cannes thought of me'
Jodie Foster: 'I am flattered that Cannes thought of me' Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Foster has been a trusted friend of the Cannes for more than four decades – seven of her films, whether as an actress or a director, have been showcased on the Croisette. She is also a devoted cinephile, both knowledgeable and passionate. This can be seen in her active contribution to the restoration of the extremely personal work of Dorothy Arzner, one of the few directors at the heart of Hollywood studios who has filmed brave women exposed to the struggles surrounding class and gender.

This commitment matches Foster’s own. Regularly and for some time now, she has been expressing her views on parity in the film industry.

She was asked what would the 13-year-old Jodie think of the present Jodie as a director she replied: "I would be really shocked that I was in the same profession for the last 40-some years — I can't quite believe it. When I was young I wanted to be a director, but I didn't know that I would be able to. I didn't know any women directors; I knew [about] the European ones. I knew about Lina Wertmuller and Margarethe von Trotta — a few European women directors, but that was it. So I assumed I wouldn't be able to direct. I thought I'd probably just write."

She has previously recalled that first Cannes baptism. “I was kind of awkward. I had lots of pimples and funny, bad hair colour because I had done Bugsy Malone, and they dyed my hair platinum blond. I remember I was sort of intimidated by the fact that I had to have a different outfit for everything — I thought that was weird. And there were also people on the beach who didn't have any tops on themselves — I thought that was pretty risqué. I remember that because my mom went to the pool, and she took her top off. And I was like, ‘Mom!’ I couldn't believe it! I was so embarrassed.”

She had also defied her mother when she went to University - she studied African-American literature at Yale although her mother thought that taking time out would finish her career. Again I did not listen and I’m happy,” she smiled.

She appears to have mellowed even further with her relationship with Hedison. She defies any inquisitors with the riposte: “There won’t be any big coming-out speech because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age.”

Jodie Foster and partner Alexandra Hedison on the Cannes red carpet: 'I was very keen on controlling absolutely everything. I thought that's what a director did'
Jodie Foster and partner Alexandra Hedison on the Cannes red carpet: 'I was very keen on controlling absolutely everything. I thought that's what a director did' Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Her relationship with Cannes is one of mutual appreciation. “Showcasing one of my films here has always been a dream of mine. I am flattered that Cannes thought of me and I am very honoured to be able to share a few words of wisdom or tell an adventure or two with a new generation of filmmakers,” she said on hearing of her honour for the first time.

“In fact, I have had several opportunities to fulfil my dream,” added Foster. “Cannes is a film festival by auteur-filmmakers who honour artists. And I greatly appreciate that.”

She was last at the Festival in 2016 with her fourth directorial effort Money Monster which played out of Competition. The thriller starred George Clooney as the host of a financial TV show with Julia Roberts as his producer. Her first film as a director was Little Man Tate in 1991. “I think on my first movie I was very keen on controlling absolutely everything. I thought that's what a director did was control everything and come up with everything in their hotel room and then just have people execute it. I think that worked for most things except the actors — I was too controlling of the actors. Every once in a while I run into Dianne Wiest, and I always apologise because I was so young and I just didn't know any better.”

Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux said: “Jodie never ceases to reinvent herself. She questions with her piercing gaze, learns from others, and is willing to step back from her beliefs in order to forge new morals — and do what is fair.”

The last word goes to Foster who at the opening ceremony underlined the importance of cinema and its evolution. "During this year of lockdown, cinema has been my lifeline. I will never lose my wonder and gratitude for cinema."

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