Can the male gaze be feminist? Can a male director evoke the intimacy of women without falling into the cliché, the spectacle or the fantasy?
These questions around “male gaze”, popularized in an essay published in 1975 by film critic Laura Mulvey and relaunched with the #Metoo movement, have a particular resonance in Cannes this year.
Three directors explain themselves
From the Norwegian Trier to the Dutch Verhoeven via the Chadian Haroun, the directors are not afraid to explore the intimacy of their heroines, through very strong roles.
A tampon thrown in the face of a father by his daughter, sex scenes viewed from a female point of view and a heroine who assumes her desires: in “Julie in 12 chapters”, the Norwegian Joachim Trier draws the electric portrait of a in her thirties in search of herself in a society marked by the #MeToo movement.
A “feminist” film according to critics, directed and written by two men. “I’ll be an idiot to avoid these subjects just because I’m a man and I’m making a film about a woman,” the director of “Oslo, Aug 31” told AFP.
“Renate [Reinsve, l’actrice principale, qui peut prétendre au prix d’interprétation, ndlr] and I had talked a lot about sexuality and eroticism. Julie is a passionate woman and sex and eroticism are an integral part of being human “, he continues, explaining that, during the filming of these scenes, the actress had worked directly with him.
Director’s gender debate
Without taboo either, the Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun delivered a fresco on abortion and excision in “Lingui”, featuring women united to survive in an ultra-conservative society where women are marginalized and vulnerable. .
>> To see, an excerpt from “Lingui”:
For the filmmaker, whose film clearly describes the process of domination, we must go beyond the debate on the gender of the director.
To think that a man could not make the intimate portrait of a woman, I find that it is very compartmentalized as thought. Guess a white man can’t tell a story about a black man. It is to deny the humanity that is in each of us.
“As a man, I am part of the patriarchy but we always manage as an individual, in conscience, to get rid of everything we have inherited and we must believe in this possibility that man can change, ”he continued.
Strong heroine or male fantasy?
Same tone for the Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, whose film “Benedetta”, based on a true story, gives pride of place to female desire.
“If I have it [le regard masculin, ndlr], I am not sure that it plays a role here, because, the reality of this project (…) it is not what one man, or several men told, it is what two women told during the trial, so it’s based on female expression, “director Paul Verhoeven told AFP.
The field of intimacy
These films come after many female directors themselves led the way with feature films about heroines assuming their desire. Like the French director Céline Sciamma, whose “Portrait of the young girl on fire” (2019), devotes only heroines. Or Rebecca Zlotowski with “An Easy Girl” (2019).
The novelty is not so much that male filmmakers realize portraits of women – “Pedro Almodovar is the first feminist filmmaker that I have seen”, greeted on the second day of the Festival the American Jodie Foster – but that they dedicate heroines and invest the field of the intimate.
The jury will decide
Asked about these questions, several members of the Festival jury took the floor to stress the need for a change in the representation of men and women. “It takes time to change the mental images we have in us, even as things move forward,” Austrian director Jessica Hausner said.
The prize list of this jury composed of five women and four men will be an answer to this nagging question.