On Friday night, at the 68th Venice Film Festival, the inaugural Gucci Award for Women in Cinema was awarded to Jessica Chastain.
Gucci's film award designed for women
Despite the best efforts of Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow, it still sometimes feels as though the world of film is a boys' club, a forum for unfeasibly rich and powerful geeks to live out their fantasy lives of fast cars, high-tech gadgets, explosions and, of course, beautiful women. Are there enough chicks in movies? Of course: just look how pretty they make the red carpet!
In other words, while the archetypal movie-star is a glamorous Anne Hathaway type (after all, how dull would the Oscars be if it were all penguin suits and no fashion parade?), the classic film director is a scruffy Peter Jackson, an unhinged Stanley Kubrick or an intense Martin Scorsese. The producer? A Jerry Bruckheimer. The scriptwriter? A sleazy, scrabbling Joe Eszterhas or self-deprecating William Goldman. The leading man could be a polymath of the George Clooney or James Franco type and no one would bat an eyelid.
The ideal female star, meanwhile, is a stunningly beautiful creature with soulful eyes, a brood of kids (not that you could tell from her designer-dress-rocking figure) and a few charitable concerns to give her a serious edge (think Angelina Jolie, not Pamela Anderson).
On Friday night, at the 68th Venice Film Festival, the inaugural Gucci Award for Women in Cinema was awarded by Madonna to Jessica Chastain, the unconventionally beautiful breakthrough star of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.
The aim of the award is, says Gucci, to "recognise an outstanding achievement by a woman in filmmaking", and the nominees were selected by an advisory committee led by the Venice Film Festival's director Marco Mueller. The final choice came down to a jury of the creative director of Gucci, Frida Giannini, the actors Robin Wright, Valeria Golin and James Franco, and the film journalist and Venice's US programmer Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan. As part of the prize, Gucci will give US$25,000 (Dh92,000) to the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at NYU Tisch School of the Arts in Chastain's name.
Gucci is not new to the world of film: for the past six years the luxury fashion brand has been working with Scorsese on The Film Foundation, which has restored the prints of movie greats from Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita to John Cassavetes's A Woman Under the Influence.
It is a somewhat disappointing realisation, though, that in the second decade of the 21st century, the company still feels that women need a specific award of their own to draw attention to their body of work. That one of the best-known (by the general public, at least) female directors in the world is Madonna, whose new film W.E. has garnered a little grudging praise and a lot of back-in-your-box criticism, is something of an indictment of our expectations of women in film. (The images of her directing were telling: no perfectly wavy golden hair or beautifully applied lipstick. Instead it was make-up-free, serious-specs-and-unflattering-hat-wearing: intellectual Madonna.)
Yet there is no doubt that over the decades there have been women who have made films on their own terms, without having to resort to rom-coms and family dramas. Bigelow is one - she's no delicate flower or glamorous fashionista, and with The Hurt Locker, she directed a movie admired by men and women alike. Emma Thompson, too, has made her name in acting, directing, producing and screenwriting (albeit with the very family-friendly Nanny McPhee at the top of her script credits). Sofia Coppola, of course, has transcended her family name to become one of the industry's most promising filmmakers (though Lost in Translation remains her most famous outing). Gurinder Chadha, director of Bhajion the Beach, Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, has overcome both gender and cultural norms to become a respected player in the industry.
Gucci's own shortlist for the award featured some interesting names, and indeed Chastain's was the only acting credit there. Frederica Pontremoli was shortlisted as the screenwriter of Habemus Papam; Nansun Shi as producer of Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame; Caroline Champetier as director of photography for Of Gods and Men; and Athina Tsangari as director and producer of Attenberg.
But for every stereotype-busting director such as Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right) or Lone Scherfig (An Education), there are 1,000 Los Angeles starlets desperate to be the face of a make-up company, the lead in a rom-com or the main attraction on the red carpet. Gucci has simply recognised that, as far as film is concerned, it's still a man's world.