Palme d'Or closing ceremony of the 71st Cannes Film Festival

By Moira Sullivan

In the Palme d'Or closing ceremony of the 71st Cannes Film festival, music from the "Wonder Woman" soundtrack accompanied almost every award given out as if the choices were made by "empowered women" not established film professionals. The jury of four men and four women led by president Cate Blanchett was called female centric. Between the protests and the awards, underrepresentation in all events poses the question why do women want to have equality in a pageant that is just not interested in them? The Fight for Inclusion is a real struggle but is it worth it?

Only three women out of 18 films made by men were chosen by the selection committee this year overseen by artistic director Thierry Frémaux.   Yet - two of these women walked away with top prizes: Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum (Lebanon) won the jury prize and Alice Rohrwacher won best screenplay for Lazzaro Felice (Italy)

Rohrwacher who previously won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival  in 2014 for The Wonders made an enchanting film about a peasant community under the control of the miserly Marchesa De Luna who owns the land they till , rich with tobacco plants. Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) is a happy go lucky hard farm worker who is befriended by Tancredi,  the son of the Marchesa and both hide in the mountains with the wolves in Rohrwacher’s brilliant storytelling. When they come down it is 20 years later. Lazarro comes down by falling off a cliff—but he doesn’t die. When he wanders back to where he used to live, the home of the Marchesa is being pilfered by looters. He is so good natured that he asks if he can help and the looters let him. But they refuse to give him a ride and he walks to town – lost in a world that is so different from the peasant colony he was a part of.  The Marchesa is taken to prison in what amounts to a national swindle scandal and illegal repression of her workers who are deprived of an education and subject to unfair labor practices. When in town Lazarro manages to find the other workers from his colony and he is useful in helping them earn money from selling the artefacts of the Marchesa - over and over again. They have all aged about twenty years but Lazarro has not aged a day.  Eventually he finds the son of the Marquis who has convince him they could be brothers since his father was a womanizer and might have made the mother he never knew pregnant. The characters are vivid and memorable in this magical realist tale by Rohrwacher also starring her sister Alba, one of the central characters. In this film as in The Wonders Rohrwacher takes us back in time to experience the good and the bad before urbanization when living off the land resulted in an innocence in people, like Lazzaro.

Labaki’s Capernaum was clearly a strong contender for the Palme d'Or with powerful innovative shots by Christopher Aoun, skilled editing by Konstantin Bock and layering with a dynamic soundtrack by Khaled Mouzanar. Zain (Zain Al Rafeea)a young 12 year old boy watches his sister Sahar sold into sexual slavery by his parents and runs away as protest. He is taken in by Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) an Ethiopian woman with a young son she treats with love and affection but when she doesn’t return home Zain finds himself becoming a nursemaid in the slums of Beirut trying to find food and shelter. In inverted narrative order, we learn why he later decides to sue his parents for bringing him into the world. It is this narrative construction that is the main attraction of the film for we learn about this boy piecemeal. Capernaum is an investigation of these lost children who are sold into homes where they are abused and mistreated and where their owners profit from their misery. But Zain has an elaborate plan and his solitary actions help to create reforms in his society.

Officially, this was the year for women at Cannes. It is a year that is only meaningful if the number of films made by women selected to the festival increases as these two excellent films demonstrate.

© 2018 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/30/19
Movie Magazine International