Mad Max, Meryl and #MeToo in strong day for women at Cannes

Host Camille Cottin had several pops at the patriarchy (CHRISTOPHE SIMON)
Host Camille Cottin had several pops at the patriarchy (CHRISTOPHE SIMON)

A blood-splattered "Mad Max" heroine, a Meryl Streep masterclass, a #MeToo figurehead -- the Cannes Film Festival showed the progress women have made in cinema on its first full day on Wednesday.

The festival welcomed the world premiere of "Furiosa", the latest instalment of the post-apocalyptic "Mad Max" franchise, with Anya Taylor-Joy in the no-holds-barred title role playing alongside "Thor" star Chris Hemsworth.

Director George Miller said the action film -- featuring his trademark high-octane road battles and visceral stunts -- had become "almost a feminist piece" as the saga's story unfolds.

Streep, who was awarded an honorary Palme d'Or at the opening ceremony, shared intimate stories from her career and spoke about the huge progress of women in the industry.

"The biggest stars in the world are women right now," she said in a talk to festival-goers, pointing out that her early roles were often so memorable "because she was the only woman in the film".

She put the blame on the fact that men had all the power at studios in the past.

"They're living their fantasy and so it was very hard -- before there were women in green-light positions at studios -- for men to see themselves in women protagonists," she said. "They just didn't get it."

The race for the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, also started Wednesday with two films that put women's stories centre-stage.

First up are "The Girl with the Needle", billed as the story of a Danish woman running an underground adoption agency after World War I, and "Wild Diamond" about a French teenager seeking fame on a reality TV show, from first-time director Agathe Riedinger.

They are being judged by a jury led by Greta Gerwig, the first woman to direct a $1 billion movie with "Barbie".

- 'Respect on set' -

French star Lea Seydoux, who appeared in the opening night film "The Second Act", said she had personally witnessed more respect for women on sets since the #MeToo movement.

"I was an actress before and after, and I can only welcome the change," said Seydoux, who famously denounced the director of her Cannes-winning breakthrough "Blue is the Warmest Colour" for the "horrible" conditions when shooting its explicit sex scenes.

"Today, I see that there is respect on set, even for intimate scenes," Seydoux told reporters.

There is also a screening of a short film about sexual violence, "Moi Aussi" ("Me Too"), by French actor Judith Godreche.

She has become a leading figure in France's #MeToo movement after accusing two directors of assaulting her when she was a teenager in the 1980s -- even appearing before the French Senate this year to call for greater protections on film sets.

It comes amid a wave of new allegations in France, most notably against veteran actor Gerard Depardieu, and persistent rumours that more big names will face accusations.

Godreche told AFP she has a nuanced view of the #MeToo movement.

"There is growing awareness, but sometimes things are announced in a way that feels too staged. It's not very spectacular being abused, it's not very funny, it's not very theatrical," she said.

- Gerwig hopeful -

The host of the opening ceremony, Camille Cottin, star of hit series "Call My Agent!" and an outspoken feminist, also took digs at the "biggest bad guy of all time: the patriarchy".

"The late-night work meetings in hotel rooms of all-powerful gentlemen are no longer part of the Cannes vortex," she said in her welcome address.

Gerwig, meanwhile, struck an optimistic note.

"Every year I cheer when there are more and more women being represented," she told reporters on Tuesday.

"Fifteen years ago, I couldn't have imagined the number of women represented not only at international festivals but in distribution and board conversations, and so I'm hopeful that it's just continuing."

Still to come at the 77th edition of the festival is the hotly anticipated return of "The Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola with his decades-in-the-making epic, "Megalopolis", on Thursday.

Also in the running for the top prize is a Donald Trump biopic, "The Apprentice", and new films from arthouse favourites David Cronenberg ("The Shrouds"), Italy's Paolo Sorrentino ("Parthenope"), as well as "Emilia Perez", an unlikely-sounding musical about a Mexican cartel boss having a sex change from French Palme d'Or-winner Jacques Audiard.

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