The Cannes Film Festival, which began Wednesday, has always been a mix of high-brow cinema and non-stop bacchanal. The size of a postage stamp, every May the Croissette becomes tranformed into a world stage for serious cinema and cheesy behavior, often side by side.
This year is no different. Sacha Baron Cohen was in Cannes Wednesday in "Dictator" regalia cavorting on a yacht with a bikini-clad Elisabetta Canalis, who was on her knees rubbing sun-tan lotion over Cohen's chest. (Boy, has she gone downhill since her break up with George Clooney.)
And this year, as every other year, young women with plunging necklines will be swanning on the red carpet on the Croisette. But what we won't see at Cannes are women who have spent the past year sitting in director's chairs.
This year none of the 22 films that the programmers and leaders of the Festival have chosen for competition have been directed by women.
This has outraged many women, especially La Barbe, the French Feminst action group. More than 700 women - including filmmakers, organizers and activists - have signed a petition and sent their grievances to Festival director Thierry Fremaux. The manifesto says: "We call for Cannes and other film festivals worldwide to commit to transparency and equality in the selection process of these films."
Mr. Fremaux responded by saying: "I select work on the basis of its actual qualities. We never select a film that doesn't deserve it on the basis it was made by a woman."
He added, "There is no doubt that greater space needs to be given to women within cinema. But it's not at Cannes and in the month of May that that question needs to be raised, but rather all year and everywhere."
Melissa Silverstein, who founded the excellent blog Women and Hollywood, has put together a petition building on the earlier manifesto of La Barbe, and she has added an additional 211 signatures. The petition is directed to the jurors of the Cannes Film Festival and it reiterates the request by La Barbe for more equality and diversity in the films selected at the Festival.
Some of the women who have signed the petition include Gloria Steinem and directors Gillian Armstrong, Rachel Ward and Ava Du Vernay.
The Festival's track record in recognizing women directors is abysmal: in the 64-year history of the Festival only one woman - Jane Campion for "the Piano" in 1993- has been awarded the top prize, the Palme D'or.
Not that Hollywood is much better. Only four women directors have been nominated for Academy Awards - Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion, Lina Wertmuller and Kathryn Bigelow - with only Ms. Bigelow winning the Oscar.
Despite its circus-like atmosphere, Cannes is one of the most prestigious film festivals; last year's Oscar winner "The Artist" first screened at Cannes and immediately became part of the Oscar conversation. The Festival gives exposure to directors who might otherwise be overlooked, like the high-minded filmmaker Thai director Apichatpoong Weerasethakul, whose 2009 film "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" won the Palm D'or, and who has returned this year with the dreamy "Mekong Hotel." The Festival can launch a director's career, but it seems only for men.