5 Women Directors to Watch: Cannes 2021

5 Women Directors to Watch: Cannes 2021

This year’s Cannes Film Festival hosted 20 women directors across its expanded 63 film line-up, with Julia Ducournau scooping the Palme d’Or for Titane – only the second woman in the event’s history to win the prestigious award. ASFF takes a look back at five films by women directors that caught the eye from the 2021 official selection.


Awarded the Palme d’Or by the Spike Lee-led jury, Julia Ducournau became only the second woman to ever take the top prize (after Jane Campion for The Piano, which she shared with Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine). Agathe Rouselle plays a psychopath who disguises herself as a boy and adopts the persona of the long-lost son of Vincent Lindon’s broken father. A daring, bold and violent film, it fulfilled the promise of Ducournau’s cannibal-themed 2016 debut Raw.

The Souvenir Part II

Playing in Director’s Fortnight (alongside British filmmaker Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava, which deserves an honourable mention here), Joanna Hogg’s follow-up to her 2019 film saw the return of Honor Swinton Byrne as film student Julie. Picking up a couple of days on from the original, it sees Julie navigate the grief she’s swamped by over the death of her older lover. Tilda Swinton and Richard Ayoade reprise their roles, while Harris Dickinson and Joe Alwyn were newcomers to this engaging semi-autobiographical story.

Mothering Sunday

French director Eva Husson (Girls of the Sun, Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story) made an impressive stab at the British heritage drama with this refined period piece. The Crown’s Josh O’Connor plays an upper-class Englishman reeling from the deaths of his peers in WWI. He is soon sucked into an affair with Odessa Young’s maid (and aspiring writer). Based on the novel by Graham Swift, and with Colin Firth and Olivia Colman offering sturdy support, this was an elegant affair of the heart.


Andrea Arnold is a Cannes regular and a three-time Jury prize-winner (for Red Road, Fish Tank and American Honey). This latest effort, her first documentary, played out of competition. Shot over several years, the film observes the life of a dairy cow, from the milking to the occasion frolics in the pasture. There was a poetry in Arnold’s study of this creature and a finale that left audiences shocked.

Bergman Island

One of the four female-directed films in competition, Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island was probably the highest-profile. Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps play a couple – he’s a writer-director, she’s a screenwriter – who venture to the Swedish island of Fårö. Reality and fiction collide as Krieps’ character struggles to finish her script. A film about creativity, truth be told, it lacked the impressive spark of her earlier films like Eden and Goodbye First Love.

James Mottram