Chandeliers adorned the tables of this year’s amfAR gala, the fundraiser held at the tail-end of the Cannes Film Festival for the last 25 years, ornate centerpieces with glowing lampshades and crystal beading. But all of them were tilted, as if they had fallen from the sky, or survived a cataclysmic event.
It was a decorative choice that represented far more than was intended. Until this year, Harvey Weinstein had been a fixture at the gala, and the festival, and both still shook with the impact of his fall.
Though the event, begun by Elizabeth Taylor in an effort to raise money for the fight against AIDS, was outwardly as glamorous as ever, the atmosphere at the luxurious Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc was off-kilter. Yes, guests enjoyed cocktails by an antique Bentley, an Ai Weiwei sculpture and a metal tree the branches of which held champagne flutes, and during dinner, Sting and Grace Jones performed sets between a high-stakes auction, where a painting of Bob Dylan by the actor Pierce Brosnan fetched 1.2 million euros.
And yes, there were celebrities in attendance: Milla Jovovich, Ava DuVernay, Adrien Brody, Benicio Del Toro. But the majority of the charity’s 25 female honorary chairs — Katy Perry, Scarlett Johansson, Kate Hudson — didn’t show. “Leo isn’t even here,” was the most common lament from wealthy partygoers, many of whom pay thousands of dollars just to gawk at big names, including DiCaprio, who is such a staple at the event that he typically hosts an after-party down the road.
The lack of star power at amfAR was just one indication of the complicated impact the Weinstein scandal and #MeToo have had on Cannes and Hollywood. For years, the disgraced movie executive did fundraising for amfAR, urging his famous friends -- DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, Jay-Z — to attend the event with him. He often stayed at the du Cap, allegedly using its suites to prey on actresses such as Asia Argento, who claims Weinstein raped her at the hotel in 1997.
A charge she reiterated two days after this year’s amfAR gala in a searing speech delivered at the festival’s closing ceremony.
“This festival was his hunting ground,” said Argento, who was on hand to present the actress award. “Even tonight, sitting among you, there are those who still have to be held accountable for their conduct against women, for behavior that does not belong in this industry, does not belong in any industry or workplace. You know who you are. But most importantly, we know who you are. And we’re not going to allow you to get away with it any longer.”
Her battle cry came at the end of a festival that was clearly — like much of Hollywood — struggling to find its place in the post-#MeToo era. In March, Cannes director Thierry Frémaux said it was “not the festival’s role to organize #MeToo events.”
But a few days after Cannes launched, he did an about-face, taking part in a red carpet march where 82 women from the film industry — including jury president Cate Blanchett, Agnes Varda and Salma Hayek — came together to make a public statement about the need for gender equality in the movie business. Frémaux and other Cannes organizers also signed a pledge promising to work towards gender parity behind the scenes and to become more transparent about the way in which the festival selects the films it will screen.
Just three female filmmakers were in competition for the coveted Palme d’Or this year, and while the jury (which included five women and four men) bestowed awards on two of their films, the top prize ultimately went to a man: Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Jane Campion is the only woman who has won the prize in the festival’s 71-year history — and even she shared the award in a tie with a man, Chen Kaige.
Festival organizers, meanwhile, invited Lars von Trier — who was declared “persona non grata” in 2011 after saying at a press conference that he understood and sympathized with Hitler — to screen his new film, “The House that Jack Built.” The movie, which stars Matt Dillon as a serial killer who victimizes actresses such as Uma Thurman, contained so much extreme violence against women that it prompted dozens of filmgoers to walk out of the premiere screening and generated scathing reviews.
Cannes also screened “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” from Terry Gilliam, who in March compared #MeToo to “mob rule.”
“Harvey opened the door for a few people, a night with Harvey — that’s the price you pay,” Gilliam said in an interview with the Agence France-Presse, prompting outrage from stars such as Ellen Barkin and Judd Apatow. “It is a world of victims. I think some people did very well out of meeting with Harvey and others didn’t. The ones who did knew what they are doing. These are adults; we are talking about adults with a lot of ambition.”
There were signs of progress — Jessica Chastain pitched her independently produced spy thriller “355,” which costars international actresses including Lupita Nyong’o and Penelope Cruz, to distributors, promptly securing high-priced deals across the globe (including Universal in the US).
But there were also reminders of how slow the industry has been to adapt — during a Women in Motion event, designed to bring more women into the cinematic conversation, Carey Mulligan was asked: “In an era of #MeToo, how would you react to someone saying you were very beautiful?”
It all underscored the uncertain future Hollywood faces when it comes to implementing change, and how many in the business are still grappling with how to discuss sensitive topics.
Promoting his mobster flick “Gotti,” John Travolta said he honestly didn’t “know a ton about” #MeToo because he tries to view genders and races equally.
"Protest is valid. But how do you measure — how do you differentiate the moment where it becomes invalid?" said the actor. "It's an art, almost, to say, 'OK, let's protest, but we've achieved that here and these particular rights. Now, let's get smart about how we use that … protest so it doesn't get into an irrational perspective.'”
And who turned up at the party to celebrate Travolta’s new mobster flick — held, where else but, at the du Cap? Brett Ratner, who was accused of sexual impropriety by 11 women in The Times in November. The filmmaker was not part of any Cannes program but was spotted at a number of festival events.
Even the highly visible amfAR gala had moments that seemed completely out of step. After a fashion show in which 31 women modeled designers such as Balmain, Chanel and Versace, the dresses were put up for auction.
Former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld, who curated the styles, attempted to up the bidding by asking: “How much would you pay for a special kiss from all the girls?”
“31 kisses! That could take a long, long, long, time,” auctioneer Simon de Pury replied. "All of these ladies are waiting eagerly for you."
The collection ultimately went for 1.6 million euros, and the “lucky” male bidder was asked by de Pury to “come to the front and collect all of [his] kisses.” Top models including Winnie Harlow and Alessandra Ambrosio gave the winner kisses on the cheek before exiting the stage.
It remains to be seen how much money the amfAR gala ultimately generated, though in years past the sum has been upwards of $30 million. The organization itself has seen its fair share of tumult post-Weinstein, when it was alleged that Weinstein funneled donations from the 2015 Cannes gala to a Boston-based theater production of “Finding Neverland” that Weinstein was workshopping. The New York attorney general reviewed the charity’s governance and chairman Kenneth Cole resigned.
“There’s been bad publicity, unfortunately,” Jovovich, who has been attending the annual Cannes gala since 1998, told The Times. “But this is an important cause, and we need to come out and support, especially after what happened, because one bad apple shouldn’t ruin this bunch.”
Honorary chair Heidi Klum, who hosts “Project Runway,” which Weinstein executive produced, insisted that the future of the fundraiser would not be overshadowed by the mogul’s misdeeds.
“It wasn’t really his event,” said the model, who once presented on the amfAR stage with Weinstein. “I’m sure he got a lot of people to come. But as you see, people still come here. It’s the hottest ticket once again.”