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Highlighting the Six Women Directors Who Set a Record at the 76th Cannes Film Festival

“This is the highest number of female directors we have,” said Thierry Fremaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival, touting the record number of women-directed films in the main competition of the 76th edition of the world’s most prestigious film festival.

Six out of 19 entries reflect a full 31.5% of films that hail from women filmmakers, which is a brand-new Cannes record.

They include Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, Jessica Hausner’s Club Zero, Catherine Breillat’s Last Summer, Justine Triet’s Anatomie d’une chute (Anatomy of a Fall), Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s Banel et Adama and Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters.


Sy and Ben Hania are newcomers to the competition lineup. Sy is also only the second Black woman to ever earn a slot in the competition lineup. The first one was Mati Diop in 2019.

So far, only two female directors have ever won the Palme d’Or in the festival’s 70-plus years: Jane Campion in 1993 for The Piano and Julia Ducournau in 2021 for Titane.

In a Zoom interview with the HFPA, Fremaux said, “We know that in the past ten years, things went better and better. This is a sign we didn’t pay any special attention to that. The only thing is that in making the selection, if we had a hesitation between two movies and one is directed by a woman and the other one by a man, if it’s real hesitation, a real balance, we will pick up the one directed by a woman.

“For example, if it’s a hesitation between a French film or a film coming from Senegal, as Senegal is not a country we used to have, we are going to give the film coming from Senegal. But I must confess that those female directors did wonderful films. So, I hope you will share the same opinion in the end.”

We spotlight some of the women directors at the Cannes Film Festival, which runs until the 27th of May, this year.


Alice Rohrwacher (La Chimera)

The 41-year-old filmmaker-editor-screenwriter’s first experience in filmmaking was in 2006 when she directed a part of the Italian documentary Checosamanca.

Born to an Italian mother and a German father, Rohrwacher directed her first feature film in 2011, Heavenly Body, which premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Recently, her film Le pupille was nominated for an Oscar in the short film category.

Rohrwacher’s latest feature, La Chimera, which can be loosely translated as The Unrealizable Dream, is set in the world of archaeological looting in Southern Tuscany. It stars Isabella Rossellini as a retired opera singer, Josh O’Connor as a young British archaeologist and her sister Alba Rohrwacher as an international artifacts trafficker.

On working with her older sister, Rohrwacher told Variety, “I deeply admire actors, they are able to do something I can’t do. Working with my sister is a privilege because she is a great and very generous actress. We trust and love each other so much that we always tell each other the truth, even if it hurts, and sometimes that can cause arguments. But we know that our criticisms are very constructive. She is always one of the first people who read my scripts.”


Jessica Hausner (Club Zero)

The Austrian film director and screenwriter, 50, first received international attention with her film Lovely Rita in 2001 which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.

The daughter of Viennese painter Rudolf Hausner, she studied at the Filmakademie Vienna.

In her latest film Club Zero, Australian actress Mia Wasikowska stars as Miss Novak, a new teacher at an elite school who creates a strong bond with members of Gen Z and teaches them that eating less is somehow healthier.

In an interview with IndieWire, Hausner said of Wasikowska, “In the film, she is a teacher but also a sort of cult leader, and we met some people who were members of a cult and managed to escape, so they told us about the cult leaders they met. Everything sounded quite frightening, but what was most interesting for us in building Mia’s role, some of the cult leaders really believe what they say. They’re really convinced they’re doing good, even when it’s not doing good, so that was key to Mia’s role: she’s convinced she’s helping the children when she’s not.”

Asked if there was a particular cult that inspired her in writing the movie, she replied, “I am interested in all sorts of religious substitutes that exist nowadays, so part of being Catholic or Christian or whatever, I think there are a lot of cults going on that aren’t necessarily combined to a religion.

“Nutrition offers a lot of ideology to build up with, and I found out that in nutrition, also, there are some people who are vegan who hate vegetarians and things like that, so you suddenly enter a world of very dedicated but even extremist opinions. That inspired me to choose that specific subject of nutrition.”


Justine Triet (Anatomy of a Fall)

The 44-year-old graduate of the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris made her debut feature, Age of Panic, in 2013 and was part of the ACID program of independent films at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

The French film director-screenwriter-editor’s latest film, Anatomy of a Fall, is a crime thriller that she directed and co-wrote with Arthur Haran. The movie stars Sandra Huller as a writer trying to prove her innocence in her husband’s death. Triet’s fourth feature film also stars Swann Arlaud and Milo Machado Graner.

Asked by France-Amerique.com about her relationship to writing, she pointed out, “Writing is a moment of organization that I enjoy. It can also be used to enhance the otherwise mediocre side of arguments or certain love stories, as well as to repair faults through the understanding of experiences. I like the idea of transcending reality; telling a little autobiographical story is pointless.”

Together with directors Rebecca Zlotowski and Celine Sciamma as part of the association Le Deuxieme which campaigns for gender equality in the French film industry, Triet was asked whether the environment is changing.

She replied, “Cinema is transforming both in France and abroad. We are currently going through a crisis which will lead to renewal. I want women to be more present in artistic creation and occupy more important roles. What happened to us that we find ourselves in such a state of imbalance? This question was not asked for a long time, but we can’t ignore it anymore.”


Catherine Breillat (Last Summer)

Born in Bressuire, Deux-Sevres, France, the 74-year-old French filmmaker-novelist decided to become a writer and director at the age of 12 after watching Ingmar Bergman’s Gycklamas afton.

In the business for over 40 years, Breillat is known for films focusing on sexuality, intimacy, gender conflict and sibling rivalry.

Her latest erotic drama, Last Summer, which she directed from a screenplay she co-wrote with Pascal Bonitzer, stars Lea Drucker and Samuel Kircher.

On why her films are often controversial, explicit and provocative, the uncompromising filmmaker explained to Salon.com, “I always say that it is not I who is provocative or scandalous, rather that the world is old and moldy. I refuse to allow myself to have censors dictate what I can and cannot show or decide for me what I, as an artist, should be presenting or representing. As both a woman and a director, I should be allowed to speak out and decide what images I want to show, and how I am going to make my film. I forbid that censors dictate what my works are going to be like, or where I can place the camera or what I can show.”

She added, “In terms of provocation and what is censored, we just have to think of Elvis who wasn’t allowed to appear on television, or we can go back two centuries ago to Victor Hugo, the great French writer, and the Bataille d’Hernani, which refers to a fight about censorship (that occurred after the performance of his play, Hernani) created a scandal. But now, no one would think twice about not allowing all of his works to be read and distributed.

“When one is modern or ahead of their time, inevitably one provokes or creates scandals because society insists that we conform or be conformists. Anything that is new disturbs.”


Ramata-Toulaye Sy (Banel et Adama)

The Senegalese French film director and screenwriter, who was raised in Paris, is noted for her 2021 short film Astel, her first directorial project.

Sy’s feature debut film, Banel & Adama, which was shot on location in northern Senegal, is composed of non-professional actors who perform in the Pulaaarr, a variant of the Fula language.

Working nearly a decade ago on the script for Banel & Adama, she told Variety that it was a radically different time for African cinema. “I felt that all the stories about Africa dealt with poverty, with terrorism, with violence,” she said.

With Sy becoming only the second Black woman filmmaker competing for the Palme d’Or, she added, “I really hope that soon all this will be taken for granted – that we won’t be counting the Black directors, that we won’t be counting women. It means that there’s still something wrong, that there’s still something that hasn’t become completely normal and natural.”

In Un Certain Regard, female filmmakers who are competing include Molly Manning Walker, Monia Chokri, Renée Nader Messora, Asmae El Moudir, Stephanie di Giusto and Delphine Deloget.

In Directors’ Fortnight, among the 21 filmmakers are these women directors: Elena Martin Gimeno, Elene Naveriani, Joanna Arnow, Filipa Reis (who codirects with Joao Miller Guerra), Rosine Mbakam and Geng Zihan.