Breaking Baz @ Cannes: Donna Langley, Michelle Yeoh & Greta Gerwig Capture The Castle At Kering’s Women In Motion Dinner

It seemed appropriate that the location for the annual Women in Motion dinner in Cannes should be at Place de la Castre, atop Suquet Hill where victors of yore could survey their domain. It was certainly the case that honored guest Dame Donna Langley had captured the castle.

Cannes Film Festival president Iris Knobloch struck the right note when when she remarked to the NBCUniversal Studio Group Chair and Chief Content Officer, and other guests, that “you are sometimes introduced as one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, but in reality you are one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, regardless of gender.”

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And it’s true.

Knobloch continued, ”Yes, women can be great leaders, just like you. Yes, woman can be successful, just like you. Yes, women can take risks, just like you. And yes, women can manage 10-figure budgets, just like you.”

(L-R) Bryan Lourd, Salma Hayek, Donna Langley and Francois-Henri Pinault
(L-R) Bryan Lourd, Salma Hayek, Donna Langley and Francois-Henri Pinault

It was perfectly proper that Dame Donna was placed at the top table opposite festival jury president Greta Gerwig. And yes, more than one person mentioned the cultural sensation that was Barbenheimer, when both Gerwig’s Warner Bros blockbuster Barbie and Universal’s Christopher Nolan Oscar winner Oppenheimer slugged it out at the box office last summer.

Not sure that we’ll see a repeat of that level of success at the box office this year.

Similarly, it’s unlikely that Cannes 2024 will match last year’s classic caliber where director Justine Triet’s powerful Anatomy of a Fall and Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest dominated every conversation from the Croisette to the Hôtel du Cap.

True, there have been a couple of remarkable competition movies but, thus far, they have not met 2023’s high bar, and even within the festival hierarchy there have been mutterings that this year’s main offerings have been a tad below par.

There was nothing below par about the Women In Motion dinner though!

As noted earlier, Place de la Castre is a fabulous venue. When I went for a long, nosy walk a couple of days ago, the place was in the process of being transformed. A structure, seemingly the size of a soccer pitch, was being erected, and thousands of sparkling lights were being installed in the ceiling. By Sunday night it was complete, as it had to be, for the 250-or-so guests who were there to be fed, watered and entertained.

Michelle Yeoh and Bryan Lourd
Michelle Yeoh and Bryan Lourd

Kering’s chairman and chief executive Francois-Henri Pinault, made a point of praising Michelin-starred Breton chef Virginie Giboire and her menu of marinated John Dory, roast geranium and garden peas infused in almond milk followed by turbot, zucchini flowers and beurre blanc made with Noilly Prat; a perfectly balanced meal that was served at 11 p.m. The orange blossom rice pudding was a triumph. I hated the lumpy, gloppy grey-looking rice pudding that was slopped onto my plate for dessert when I was a wee lad at school. Put me off the dish for decades.

Giboire’s rice pudding was in a class all by itself. It should be served in all schools. Okay that’s, perhaps, going a stretch too far. Posh rice pud’s very expensive.

In any case, the occasion wasn’t really about the food.

Pinault reminded us that Women in Motion was established almost 10 years ago, in 2015, two years before  #MeToo was in the conversation. “The cinema industry has been in a place of of unacceptable behavior in the past … but we can also see how cinema can be a force for change and to transform our societies,” he told those assembled.

Past honorees Isabelle Huppert and Michelle Yeoh were in attendance along with this year’s recipients Dame Donna and Malaysian filmmaker Amanda Nell Eu; all women who have cracked the “celluloid ceiling,” to cite Knobloch’s phrase.

(L-R) Amanda Nell Eu, Francois-Henri Pinault and Donna Langley at the Kering and Cannes Film Festival official dinner
(L-R) Amanda Nell Eu, Francois-Henri Pinault and Donna Langley at the Kering and Cannes Film Festival official dinner

Dame Donna became the first studio executive to receive the Women in Motion accolade; past winners have been thespians and directors.

But Dame Donna’s a creative force too. As Cannes Film Festival Délégué Général Thierry Frémaux observed to me, “Donna’s eye is across every script, every performance and every cut.”

She has made “inclusivity in cinema, in storytelling“ so vital that gender equality and diversity “can be a recipe for success,” Pinault told the room.

Steve McQueen’s forthcoming Working Title and Apple Studios film Blitz, starring Saoirse Ronan, Kathy Burke, Hayley Squires, Erin Kellyman, Harris Dickinson and Stephen Graham, is a case in point in so far as the effortless melding of gender equality and diversity is concerned.

The film, set in London during WWII, is expected to feature big time at the fall festivals, more than likely at the BFI London Film Festival, which kinda makes sense, and the New York Film Festival.

Working Title’s Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan were in attendance to support Dame Donna as was Focus Features chairman Peter Kujawski, and Chris Clark of RedRum Films, an old friend and colleague of Dame Donna’s from way back.

Her husband Ramin Shamshiri was there, but CAA’s Bryan Lourd escorted her onto the Kering carpet, which was black, not red. Once on the carpet, Pinault and his wife Salma Hayek welcomed them.

Festival jurors Gerwig, Lily Gladstone, Eva Green and Omar Sy were on the main, very buzzy table where it looked to me that larks were had. At one point Sy was larking about with a napkin on his head which had Green in fits of giggles.

Hugging scene at Women in Motion
Hugging scene at Women in Motion

Gerwig and Narrative’s Liz Mahoney let their hair down for a moment and danced along with the electrifying band who left the stage and mingled as they played; violins and trumpeters followed them.

Julianne Moore was probably the best-dressed in the house; she’s always so effortlessly stylish.

Charles Finch was there and he has always proclaimed that the intersection of cinema and fashion is where it’s at. Not just from a red carpet perspective but from where fashion houses actively produce movies. That’s partly one of the reasons why he’s opening a Finch and Partners office in Hollywood.

And Kering’s own Saint Laurent Productions has three films at the festival — Paolo Sorrentino’s Parthenope, David Cronenberg’s The Shrouds and Jacques Audiard’s Emilia Pérez starring Zoe Saldaña, who was at the soirée.

Director Ali Abbasi was there with the stars of his eagerly awaited The Apprentice with Sebastian Stan and Maria Bakalova.

It was fun to be right in the mix of movies and fashion for a few hours, though I kinda felt I should hire myself a stylist — and after all that delicious food, a dietician and a trainer.


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