71st Cannes Film Festival opens with drama on screen and off

CANNES, France — The 71st Cannes Film Festival is opening with the premiere of Asghar Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows,” starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, but much of the drama at this year’s festival is off screen.

The shadow of disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein is looming over this year’s Cannes. For two decades, Weinstein had been an omnipresent figure at the festival, where several of his alleged sex crimes took place.

This year, Cannes has established a hotline for sexual harassment victims at the festival.

Thierry Fremaux, the festival’s director, has said the Weinstein revelations came as a shock to Cannes, forcing the festival to examine its own practices and do more to improve gender equality.

“What emerged in Cannes must be fought in Cannes,” Marlene Schiappa, France’s secretary of state in charge of gender equality, told French television on Tuesday.

This year’s jury also includes a number of prominent members of the Time’s Up movement, including jury president Cate Blanchett. Also on the jury that will decide this year’s Palme d’Or top prize are Ava DuVernay, Kristen Stewart and Lea Seydoux, who says Weinstein had made unwelcome advances on her.

Also on the jury are Burundian songwriter Khadja Nin, Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, French director Robert Guediguian and Chinese actor Chang Chen.

Over the next two weeks, they will watch the 21 films competing for the Palme, including new releases from Spike Lee, Pawel Pawlikowski and Jean-Luc Godard. Three of the 21 films are directed by women: Nadine Labaki, Eva Husson and Alice Rohrwacher.

Cannes has come under criticism for years for not selecting more women directors. Only one female filmmaker, Jane Campion, has won the Palme.

Controversy has characterized much of the lead-up to this year’s festival.

After two Netflix films played in competition as last year’s Cannes festival — prompting protests from French exhibitors — the Cannes board of directors ruled that a film in competition at Cannes must have French distribution. French law prevents a film that plays in theatres to appear on streaming services for three years.

Faced with only showing its films out of competition, Netflix withdrew its films from Cannes. Several Netflix titles, including Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” and the recently completed Orson Welles film “The Other Side of the Wind,” had been expected to premiere this year. Since then, both sides have expressed some regret over their disagreement.

Also likely absent from the festival will be two filmmakers living under house arrest in their home countries. The festival has asked that exceptions be made so that Russian theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov and Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi can attend the premieres of their films, but that appears unlikely.

In the festival’s Un Certain Regard section is “Rifiki,” a lesbian romance from Kenya that has already been banned at home.

But Danish provocateur filmmaker Lars von Trier will return to Cannes seven years after being declared “persona non grata” for joking about being a Nazi and having sympathy for Hitler. His film “The House That Jack Built” stars Matt Dillon and Uma Thurman.

Also making a return to Cannes is “Star Wars.” The Han Solo spinoff “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is set for an international premiere on May 15.

Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

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