Deauville Film Festival: Kirk Douglas Passes the Baton to Female Directors

September 15, 2020
The seaside town hosted France's first major live cultural event since lockdown, but things were a little different in 2020, as Helen Barlow reports.

The Deauville Film Festival of American Cinema runs at the same time as Venice, and usually the two festivals share big name American talent. Since Americans were not allowed to travel to the French seaside town this year, Deauville became a very different event, with far more French films than in the past.

Still, Barbet Schroeder was able to personally accept the 46th Deauville Festival Award, while the ever-amiable Michael Douglas appeared via Zoom to honour his father Kirk Douglas, who also received a tribute.

“When Dad died in early February, COVID happened, so our family couldn’t give him a memorial. We are treating this evening as a memorial,” he told the crowd. (Douglas of course met his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones at the festival.)

Deauville, like Venice, ran as a live event, and became the first major French cultural event since lockdown. The Festival closed with the French-language How I Became a Superhero, which went down well. While reviews are yet to come, viewers enthusiastically took to Twitter praising the casting and humour even if it doesn’t re-invent the genre.

A screening of the film followed the award ceremony, which was staged in a similar manner to other years. Interestingly, I was part of an English-language critics’ jury deciding the Prix d’Ornano-Valenti awarded to the best first French film. While the voting took place before the festival, we were unanimous in giving the prize to Charlene Favier for Slalom, which I wrote about for FilmInk at the time of the promotion for the Cannes Label films.

Charlene Favier accepting her award for Slalom, photo by Jacques Basile

Deauville, in fact, enjoyed a collaboration with Cannes and screened 10 Cannes Label films. It also screened three films from the similarly cancelled Annecy Animation Festival. Appearing on stage in Deauville, Cannes director Thierry Fremaux noted that even two world wars couldn’t affect the closure of cinemas for three months as COVID had, adding that Cannes would be back. In October, Fremaux stages his own Lumiere Film Festival in Lyon – a COVID hotspot – and at the moment it is going ahead.

Women directors dominated the Deauville competition, as eight of the 15 independent US productions were directed by women. This included Australian Kitty Green with her magnificently crafted US film The Assistant. Green rightly received a special director’s prize from the Revelation jury, presided over by Rebecca Zlotowski. Sean Durkin’s The Nest won for best film in the section. But that’s not all. Durkin’s follow up to 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene (yes he’s only made two features) also took out the main Grand Jury prize from a jury headed by Vanessa Paradis. It also won the critics prize.

The three prizes marked a coup for the film, which premiered in Sundance and stars Jude Law and Carrie Coon as a husband and wife who struggle after moving with their family from America to rural England. In an interview with France 24, Paradis praised the “power and elegance” of the film’s direction and the acting of its leads. “You forget they are playing a role.”

The Jury prize was shared by two films: Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow and Lorelei, the debut by British director Sabrina Doyle, who was actually able to attend – and speak French. Just as well, since very little English was spoken at this year’s festival as there was no need.

Lorelei director Sabrina Doyle, photo by Jacques Basile

The City of Deauville Audience award went to another Sundance film, Uncle Frank, which stars Paul Bettany in the title role of a gay man who confronts his past. Set in the early ‘70s it marks only the second film directed by American Beauty producer Alan Ball (who also created Six Feet Under and True Blood) and it’s a very personal story for the openly gay 63 year-old. The film releases in November on Amazon.


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