Cannes: Greta Gerwig, Lily Gladstone and the Weight of Politics at the Fest

Early on in the meta French comedy “The Second Act,” which was opening the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday night, a father (Vincent Lindon) and daughter (Léa Seydoux) are sitting in his car and chatting about her boyfriend. But just a few lines into the scene, Lindon cracks and refuses to perform it.

As he leaves the car to stalk across a field, Seydoux pursues him and tries to continue running their lines. But he is undeterred, claiming the current state of the world is too dire for light comedy.

“You’ll carry on as if nothing was wrong, as if everything was fine and dandy?” Lindon says to her. “Mankind is nearly done, and you want to play my daughter in an indie movie?”

Though the festival has only just begun, the question of how much the outside world should intrude on cinema has become a pertinent one. At a meeting with the news media on Monday, the Cannes artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, was peppered with so many queries about real-world issues — from the war in Gaza to the #MeToo controversies currently swirling in the French film industry — that he snapped, insisting that he would prefer Cannes to stand apart from such things.

“We’re trying to have a festival without this polemical aspect,” Frémaux said. “We’re very careful to maintain that the reason people come here is because of the cinema.”

That may be, but the real world can still be felt here: For two weeks, Cannes is a bubble, but a bubble can be popped.

At a news conference for the competition jury held Tuesday afternoon, only one question was asked about the Palme d’Or that the jury president, Greta Gerwig, will soon bestow. The other journalists mainly raised their hands to raise issues, interrogating a set of jury members that includes the actors Lily Gladstone, Omar Sy and Eva Green.

How did Gerwig feel about the festival’s often meager amount of female filmmakers in competition? “I’ve been making movies and going to festivals for 20 years, and this has never not been a question,” the “Barbie” director said. “In my lifetime of making movies, it’s changed and gotten better. There’s more, and it’s not done yet, but it’s certainly moving in the right direction.”

Gladstone, recently Oscar-nominated for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” joked that she was still wrapping her head around serving on the Cannes jury: “I thought I just got over my impostor syndrome last year after the moment I had, but it just started all over again.” She turned more serious when asked if she relates as a Native American artist to film projects made by Indigenous filmmakers from other countries.

“As Indigenous people, we recognize representation coming from each other very quickly. Even though we’re an incredibly diverse global community, there’s still a sense of identity in how we experience the world,” she said. “It’s impossible to try to homogenize us to one perspective, although I do think there is very much a shared experience.”

Rumors are swirling that major figures in the French film industry will soon be accused of sexual misconduct, and Gerwig and Sy were asked if such a reckoning was overdue in France. Gerwig demurred but praised the way the #MeToo movement has transformed Hollywood.

“The one I always think of is the rise of intimacy coordinators,” she said, noting that the job didn’t exist when she was starting out and that now it’s built into films. She added, “I think of it the exact same way I think of a stunt coordinator or a fight coordinator. It’s an art, and it’s part of building a safe environment just as you would if you were going to have two people fight with swords.”

Gerwig play-acted two swords inelegantly banging against each other. “You don’t just see what happens,” she said. “That would be terrifying!”

Asked whether it was fair to consider real-world controversies while evaluating the films in competition, Gerwig took a big-picture approach. Movies are personal points of view made by artists all over the world, she said. In that way, they can’t help but be political.

“I think the very act of watching cinema and engaging with it seriously is part of the discussion of what’s difficult: If you’re truly engaging with it, you’re engaging with everything,” she said. “It’s important to consider it, and the very nature of Cannes does consider it.”

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