In the two period films that have premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, it seems clear that the battle of the sexes has never been more alive.
In the male corner is Rodin, written and directed by Jacques Doillon. The film charts the passionate life of Auguste Rodin, the French national treasure and sculptor, in the year that marks the centenary of his death. A virile archetypal French film, it follows a story line that feels curiously familiar: a middle aged man is having a crisis. Meet Rodin: heavily bearded, passionate in his life and work, and exploring the greatest existential dilemma any Frenchman can face: wife or mistress?
Rodin (played by Vincent Lindon) eventually chooses his wife, the long suffering Rose, (Séverine Canelle) but not until his passionate affair with Camille Claudel (Izïa Higelin) has taken Rose to the brink of despair. Although she never raised her voice in anger at her wayward husband, she does at one stage visit his mistress and launches into what can only be described as a most un-ladylike exchange. The affair finally comes to an end - Camille is rusticated to a mental institution blaming Rodin's lack of commitment for her paranoia. The artist, however, stoically carries on working and produces some of his greatest masterpieces.
Vincent Linden plays the role of Rodin masterfully, embodying the alpha male hero. In one scene, he achieves what is best described as mid-life piece du resistance of sexual fantasy, as not one but two of his models demand that he makes love to them. Remarkably, they find his wrinkled, middle-aged looks irresistible. This is pure male fantasy. Rose, meanwhile, seems happy to stay at home cooking and cleaning.
When Riviera Insider asked director Jacques Doillon and star Vincent Lindon why they chose to portray the artist as this embodiment of French male archetype in such an exaggerated way, they practically tutted at me and demanded that I spoke French! They suggested that Rodin was a very sensual man and that, in his day, feminists had supported him for accepting female sensuality. They also said that it is only recently that modern feminists have turned against him.
Fortunately for Rodin and for humanity, he didn't try any of this alpha male stuff at the Farnsworth Seminary, which features in Sofia Coppola’s latest film: The Beguiled.
This is a curious tale of a wounded Union soldier who is found in the grounds of a young ladies’ confederate boarding school. They decide to take in enemy Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) out of a sense of Christian charity… Although Christian feelings soon become confused with other more earthly desires.
The first man inside this all female community for some time, his presence begins to influence this cloistered community of women. The girls are charmed by their uninvited guest. Eventually though, this stranger makes them primp and preen, competing for his attention. As the day of his departure draws closer, the stakes mount.
Madam Martha, the head mistress (Nicole Kidman), has been making flirty overtones to the soldier and her assistant Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) fully expects to elope with him. Naughty Corporal McBurney makes a fatal error when he creeps upstairs for a fumble with the youngest of the temptresses Alicia (Elle Fanning), who has been sneaking out of prayers to kiss him. When Edwina discovers what has happened, she is so horrified by his betrayal and pushes him down the stairs, smashing his leg. The discovery, upon awakening, of his trauma is a game changer. All I will say is, if anyone is eating mushrooms at dinner, pass on them no matter how tempting they look.
In this corner, it's a knock-out for the girls: a beautiful and brilliant offering that could well win the Palme d’Or on Sunday.
Which team will triumph?