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Among the 49 films selected as part of Cannes Film Festival 2017 — celebrating 70 years as the industry’s most prestigious festival May 17-28 — are five works created by gay filmmakers. Three of this year’s films by gay directors — those by Todd Haynes, François Ozon and Robin Campillo — are among the 18 films competing for the most glamorous prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or.
This year’s Cannes Film Festival also pays tribute to André Téchiné, one of the most brilliant representatives of the Nouvelle Vague era, who will present his latest film, Nos Années Folles. American director John Cameron Mitchell will present his latest feature, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, which stars Nicole Kidman.
The work of these five gay directors is often lauded for its use of queer themes. While homosexuality or trans identity is presented as un-problematic, those issues are not always in the film’s foreground. Often, LGBT characters in the work of these directors are simply part of the scenario. It’s a fact that illustrates the evolution of world cinema on queer issues — a rather positive evolution after decades of the “celluloid closet.”
And how can we not also mention the president of this year’s jury, Pedro Almodóvar, who we singled out as one of 100 intriguing LGBTs to look out for in 2017? Franck Finance Madureira, founder of the Queer Palm — an award sponsored by our parent company, Hornet — says of Almodóvar, “This Spanish filmmaker has made an enormous advance in cinema on the representation of LGBTs on-screen.”
Take a look at the 5 gay directors presenting their work at Cannes Film Festival 2017:
1. André Téchiné
Téchiné, 74, directed his first movie in 1969 and has since made the most of established actresses like Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve. In 1985, he received the Cannes Film Festival award for best director, for Rendez-vous starring Juliette Binoche. In Les innocents (1987), he famously presented bisexual and Arab characters, and in his next film, J’embrasse pas (1991), he tackled the topic of gay male prostitution.
Wild Reeds, released in 1994 and his greatest success thus far, was inspired by his adolescence in France during the Algerian War. Téchiné puts the discovery of his homosexuality by a young man at the center of the story’s intrigue. The film has had an important trajectory internationally, winning the year’s New York Film Critics Award and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Film. The film also debuted gay actor — and later director — Gaël Morel.
In 2007, Téchiné addressed AIDS in The Witnesses, presenting a group of friends who were confronted with the epidemic’s outbreak in 1984. The moving film earned its auteur great international success. Téchiné said about the film’s emotion, “I prefer the public to be moved when Manu runs, climbs a tree or has a laugh than when he is sick. For me, it would be like taking the public hostage, and I reject that.”
A critic who was a fan of Téchiné once wrote, “That’s Téchiné’s radical vision of France — postmodern, post-colonial and post-gay liberation, with all those issues in motion.”
In 2016, Téchiné revisited adolescence with Being 17, which saw two teens discover their homosexuality as the initial violence of their relationship gradually transformed into love.
In his latest film — Nos années folles, premiering at this year’s Cannes Film Festival — Téchiné offers a tailor-made role to Pierre Deladonchamps, who played a (perpetually nude) protagonist in Stranger by the Lake, a gay thriller directed by Alain Guiraudie that made an impression on the festival five years back for its many gay sex scenes. In Nos années folles (“Golden Years”), Deladonchamps is Paul, a military deserter who disguises himself as a woman, with the help of his wife, to escape World War I. The film is based on a true story that had already inspired a comic strip.
2. Todd Haynes
Todd Haynes, 56, is a progenitor of New Queer Cinema in the United States. In several of his films, homosexuality is central, as in Poison (1991), a film presented in three parts, inspired by the novels of Jean Genet.
After Safe (1995) — in which his favorite actress, Julianne Moore, appeared for the first time, and which was named “Film of the 1990s” by the Village Voice — Haynes revived his penchant for queer themes in Velvet Goldmine (1998), a tribute to the glam rock period and its figures: David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.
But it was with Far from Heaven (2002) that Haynes acquired true international acclaim. For this film, Haynes found his inspiration in the visual universe of director Douglas Sirk’s flamboyant melodramas, shot in the ’50s for Universal Studios. It recalls one of Sirk’s most famous films, All That Heaven Allows, in which a rich widow falls in love with her beautiful gardener (played by Rock Hudson) and becomes the pariah of her rich, conservative community. Todd Haynes placed the plot of Far From Heaven in the ’50s but added homosexuality (of the husband, played by Dennis Quaid) to the story, and the housewife (Julianne Moore) falls in love with her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert).
Following a novel TV adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel Mildred Pierce in 2011 — starring Kate Winslet and Evan Rachel Wood — Haynes arrived in Cannes in 2015 to present Carol, a meticulous adaptation of the book by lesbian novelist Patricia Higsmith. It was the love story of two women of different ages and social backgrounds in the heart of America’s ’50s corsetry. Rooney Mara left Cannes with the festival’s Best Female Performance Award, and the film received the year’s Queer Palm.
This year, Haynes will walk up the festival’s famous red stairs with Wonderstruck, the story of a young Midwestern boy told simultaneously with the story of a young girl from New York 50 years back as they both search for the same mysterious connection. Haynes’ favorite actress, Moore, stars alongside Amy Hargreaves and Michelle Williams.
3. Robin Campillo
Campillo, 54, will present his highly anticipated 120 battements par minute (“120 Beats Per Minute”) — a film that centers around the AIDS activist group Act Up Paris — at Cannes Film Festival 2017. Interestingly, he has only made three feature films in the past two decades, but he has participated in numerous films as a screenwriter and film editor. His first feature film, Les Revenants (“They Came Back, 2004), did not have homo intrigue — unlike his second film, Eastern Boys (2013), which revolved around the surprising encounter between a Parisian teacher and a group of young immigrants. Campillo received the prestigious Orizzonti Jury Prize in Venice that year for his magnificent and disturbing film.
120 battements par minute will surely be one of this year’s festival highlights. The fictional take on history happens in the first years of Act Up Paris, which Campillo knows well since he has been part of it since the late ’90s. The film’s stars include the openly lesbian actress Adèle Haenel and Nahuel Perez Biscayart.
4. John Cameron Mitchell
At 54, this American director presented his work in Cannes once before: the world premiere of Shortbus (2006), an erotic drama that famously featured explicit sex scenes including penetration and ejaculation. That film is the story of several characters with particularly diverse sexual orientations, and it uses sex in different cinematographic forms because it’s simply too interesting to leave to porn. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone commented on the film, saying, “If there is such a thing as hard-core with a soft heart, this is it.”
Five years before Shortbus, in 2001, Mitchell adapted his off-Broadway rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch to film, based on the life of an East German trans singer in the ’70s.
This year, Mitchell presents the much-anticipated How to Talk to Girls at Parties. It’s London in the 1970s, and a shy, punk music-loving teen and his two friends go to a party where they meet a group of mystical women who actually come from another world.
5. François Ozon
Ozon, 49, never made a secret of his homosexuality, and one of his first short films, Une robe d’été (“A Summer Dress,” 1996), is a hymn to sexual freedom and fluidity. Since then, he has made 19 films, becoming one of the most prolific French directors of his generation. Among his work most rooted in LGBT themes is the adaptation of the RW Fassbinder play Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000). But many of Ozon’s films include LGBT characters, though they are not always at the center of the plot.
In 2014, in The New Girlfriend, Ozon addresses transitioning and unconventional types of family. The director adeptly addresses contemporary issues — the film was released one year after the long, heated debate on marriage equality in France — but always with a non-militant approach, choosing to convince through seduction.
François Ozon has been selected twice to compete at Cannes (in 2003 for Swimming Pool and in 2013 for Time to Leave). The filmmaker returns to Cannes this year with L’Amant Double. This thriller tells the story of a fragile and depressed young woman who undertakes psychotherapy and falls in love with her psychiatrist. They settle down together before she discovers that her lover isn’t who he seems.
Ozon has always been happy to receive awards at LGBT festivals, unlike one colleague in particular, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan. In 2012, Dolan refused to pick up his Queer Palm for the film Laurence Anyways, considering that kind of prize “disgusting.”
Cannes Film Festival 2017 takes place from 17 to 28 May.
Featured image by elementals via iStock