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Epic Cannes of strong women and ageing icons to decide Palme

It has been a year of Hollywood icons and ground-breaking women’s perspectives, but as an epic edition of the
Cannes Film Festival draws to a close on Saturday, eyes turn to the jury for who will win a tight race for the Palme d’Or.

There have been several strong contenders among the 21 entries in the main competition at the French Riviera festival, but no clear front runner.

Arguably the two critical favourites both star the same woman, German actress Sandra Hueller.

In “The Zone of Interest” from British director Jonathan Glazer, she chillingly plays the wife of a Nazi camp commandant, proud to be known as “the queen of Auschwitz”.

The unique film never shows the horrors of the camp, leaving them implied by background noises and small visual details, and has drawn near-unanimous praise from critics, AFP reports.

Hueller also starred in “Anatomy of a Fall” — one of many women-focused films at this year’s festival and also lauded by critics — about a wife accused of her husband’s murder.

But the decision lies with a jury of nine film professionals led by last year’s winner Ruben Ostlund (“Triangle of Sadness”) and including Hollywood stars Paul Dano and Brie Larson.

– Ageing icons –

Elsewhere, Cannes sometimes felt like a dream retirement home populated by
ageing male icons.

There were glitzy out-of-competition premieres for the new Indiana Jones movie, with an 80-year-old Harrison Ford getting weepy when he received an honorary Palme d’Or.

Martin Scorsese, also 80, premiered his much-anticipated Native American epic “Killers of the Flower Moon” with Robert De Niro, 79.

European auteurs Marco Bellocchio, 83, Wim Wenders, 77, and Victor Erice, 82, all premiered new films.

The oldest of all, 86-year-old Ken Loach, showed he still had fighting spirit with the final entry in the competition on Friday, a moving homage to working-class solidarity, “The Old Oak”.

Loach has had no fewer than 15 films in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, and a win on Saturday would give him a record-breaking third Palme d’Or.

– ‘Accessible to women’ –

Meanwhile, it was notable that many of the starriest attendees made their names in the 1980s and 1990s, among them Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Johnny Depp and Sean Penn.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve done a really sh–ty job of creating a new generation of movie stars,” one Hollywood agent moaned to Variety.

Michael Douglas, 78, who also got an honorary Palme, regaled the festival with memories of showing erotic thriller “Basic Instinct” here in 1992.

“Watching those sex scenes on the biggest screen I’d ever seen… we had a very quiet dinner afterwards,” he quipped.

But it underlined how things have changed, with many films this year presenting more of a woman’s perspective.

“The entire range of human behaviour should be accessible to women,” said Portman, whose new film “May December” is a campy but complex look at a loving mother with a buried past as a sex offender.

While Jude Law grabbed headlines as a tyrannical King Henry VIII in “Firebrand”, the film’s spotlight was really on Alicia Vikander as Catherine Parr, trying to escape the fate of the king’s previous wives.

Among many other examples was “Four Daughters” about a mother’s role in the radicalisation of her children.

And “How to Have Sex”, a nuanced look at assault and consent among boozed-up Brits abroad, won the Un Certain Regard section for newcomers on Friday.