Written By: Rehna Azim (@itsalawyerslife)
With all the talk about gender disparity in the film world, it was inevitable that The Cannes film festival would focus on women in film. The festival ran an excellent series of talks, Women in Motion, two of which I attended.
The first featured Robin Wright, riding high on her fame as Claire Underwood in House of Cards but also a veteran of film including the hugely successful Forrest Gump and the much loved The Princess Bride. She is soon to be seen in Wonder Woman and Blade Runner 2049. She has also directed several episodes of House of Cards and was in Cannes as director of a short film, Dark of Night, a six minute female vigilante offering set in the 1930s. The latter was shot over a weekend with the help of her crew from House of Cards and from a script from a first time writer.
Robin Wright, an attractive, articulate woman spoke impressively of her many roles in the film world. Being a director is an alpha position, she said. You watch the actors, you let them play and then you direct them. When she first started, she took advice from the great David Fincher who told her that directing is working with ‘behaviour over time’.
Asked about more female directors, Wright said it was a matter of time. ‘It’s about breaking an old school of thought and opening up about different perspectives. It’s not just women, you might as well ask why there aren’t more Tunisian directors. The issue is seeing the world through the lens of different people.’
Feminism, she said had become a diva like word now. ‘It’s become a derogatory term. For me it just means equal work, equal pay.’ She said that in the corporate world women CEOs had turned companies fortunes and that needed to happen in film too.
When asked what practical steps could be taken to improve the situation for women in film, she replied, ‘have more talks like these. Social media these days will blast the conversation to people and change will start.”
She said it was about amplifying your voice and to do that you don’t need to yell. Equality is about joining forces not being separate.
Asked about the most sexist experience she’d had in the business, she told of an audition in which she was asked to reveal her breasts only to hear the man involved comments that ‘the other girl’s titties were better.’
She didn’t waste too much energy on what actresses are asked on the red carpet. ‘The red carpet is always going to be about fashion. You get given great clothes to wear, you’re a woman, you’re going to get asked about your dress, they don’t ask men about what they’re wearing because they wear the same thing!’
She concluded by saying that for her a movie theatre was always the best place to see a film and it seemed to her just rude to,watch a film on a phone!
The following day there was great excitement at the presence of French icon Isabelle Huppert at the talk. I was lucky enough to meet Huppert earlier this year in London and she is a charming, lovely woman, tiny and still very youthful looking with a beautifully expressive face that puts many American actresses with their botoxed to the hilt looks to shame.
Huppert’s talk was marred by a less than impressive translation of her answers which were given in French.
From what I was able to get, she said the cinema screen is a metaphor, you can both see it and and as an actress hide behind it too. For her cinema is to be present, to share with the world the most intimate of stories.
She spoke of how we all wear masks in life and have different personas for different aspects of our life. ‘That’s a richness for an actress.”
Asked about the characters she has played in her career being free and independent women, she disagreed. “I’ve not played free women. I’ve played survivors who have fought for their freedom. It’s about conquering your status as a victim.”
She said she had not disliked any character she had played, it wasn’t about liking or disliking them, it was about representing feelings. It was about curiosity. I could be an actress even if I never left my room, she declared and cited how the Bronte sisters had written incredible universes despite never leaving their world.
She was humble about being chosen for roles. When asked which director she would choose to work with, she replied that choosing a director ‘is not like choosing a cake! It’s always a little miracle that someone chooses you to be in their movie, that they imagined you in their story. I never take that for granted as an actress.”
Ultimately her success, she concluded was being herself. “It’s not that easy,” she said wryly. “To have three funny, intelligent children, including an actress daughter” was success. She did not rule out appearing in a film like Iron Man. “Yes, absolutely,” she said, “no problem. Maybe even Iron Woman!”