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Cannes: Female directors making waves...

by Nathaniel R

Leyna Bloom at Cannes

Cannes buzz never ends. So after the jump let's talk about how a handful of new films directed by women have been received including but not limited to Un Certain Regard titles like the trans drama Port Authority, and two very buzz competition titles (Atlantique and Portrait of a Lady on Fire) that sound like Palme contenders. Exciting times ahead...


ATLANTIQUE (Mati Diop, France/Senegal)
Even before Atlantique had screened it made headlines. It's the first film ever directed by a black woman to be selected for the main competition lineup at Cannes. What's more it's a debut film! It's a haunting drama about politics, romance, and class in Senegal. BBC describes it as  "dreamy yet sensual, fantastical yet rooted in uncomfortable facts." The Telegraph describes it as "pure cinematic poetry". Both of those reviews indicate that it's also a shape-shifter and hard to categorize by genre. Sounds intriguing and definitely like an awards contender, especially if the jury would like to make big waves politically. It also sounds like it could be Senegal's Oscar submission, though they've only submitted one film previously (2017's Félicité)

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (Celine Sciamma, France)
Sciamma made her name on very contemporary dramas about young women Girlhood and Tomboy but she's gone "classical" in style and subject this time out. Portrait is an 18th century story about a noblewoman (Valeria Golino), her unmarried daughter (Noemi Merlant) and an artist/companion (Adele Hanele) for that daughter, hired to paint a portrait in secret to present to a wealthy prospective husband. The Guardian loves the director's new Hitchcockian flair and says "I was on the edge of my seat." IndieWire is also thrilled calling it "razor-sharp and shatteringly romantic."

Both of those films sound like real contenders for a jury prize. But which one? 


This debut film from Danielle Lessovitz is a contemporary drama about the NYC ball scene. Leyna Bloom (the first transwoman ever to star in a Cannes competition film) and Fionn Whitehead star. Whitehead's character, an outsider to the scene,appears to be the main protagonist. He falls for Bloom's character before he realizes she's trans. Reviews are respecttful but obviously indicate its a first film with the typical flaws of those. The Wrap says "In contrast to the vibrancy of the scene it sometimes depicts, Port Authority is a murky film." ICS also has significant quibbles, especially viewing the story from the white male cis perspective, but adds "it is also important to commend Port Authority for its abundance of virtues: it is an assured and compelling feature debut for Danielle Lessovitz, that with any justice should be propelling its lead actress Leyna Bloom into super-stardom."

Annie Silverstein's debut is meeting a similar fate -- respectful reviews but not-quite raves, often citing similar films like The Rider, The Wrestler, and . IndieWire calls this one, about a black rodeo in rural Texas, an "absorbing window into marginalized lives" and loves the lead teenage actress Amber Harvard. Rob Morgan, so memorable in Pariah and Mudbound, plays her nextdoor neighbor. Hey U Guys says it's "solid" but adds that it has  "many small moments of pleasure and real surprise."

Atlantique, Bull, and Port Authority (but not Portrait of a Lady on Fire) are eligible for the Camera d'Or which is the prize for first-time filmmakers. Last year Lukas Dhont won that prize for the trans drama Girl. The Camera d'Or jury this year is Nadine Labaki 

Previously in our Cannes-from-afar coverage...



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Reader Comments (8)

Everything I've ready about Portrait of A Lady On Fire is making me excited. I NEED a US release and I need it ASAP.

May 20, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterchasm301

I'm getting strong The Piano vibes from Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Best Picture and Best Actress.

May 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue. It's not possible anymore at Cannes. They only allowed one film winning screenplay or Jury prize + acting. No the Palme.

May 20, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterleon

gosh, what a beautiful picture of leyna. i've never heard but this just sold my ticket for her next movie

May 20, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterdan

Rob Morgan wasn't in Beasts of the Southern Wild, that was Dwight Henry.

May 21, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTess

Tess. oops. I was thinking of Pariah. Got my 2011 black indie titles mixed up. Fixed.

May 21, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

leon -- Right! then best director + best actress

May 21, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy

Again, can't happen with director. It's just Screenplay or Jury award + Acting

May 22, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterleon

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