The Dead celebrated on Cannes red carpet

| 16 May 2019

The Cannes Film Festival opened with the premiere of Jim Jarmusch's zombie movie The Dead Don't Die, passionate words from jury president Alejandro Inarritu on US President Donald Trump's plans for a Mexican border wall, and a director's chair left empty in tribute to the late Agnes Varda.

It was the first time a zombie flick has opened the festival. The film, starring Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and pop star Selena Gomez, opened the 72nd edition of the festival with a bloody and droll apocalyptic tale inspired by George Romero.

The opening ceremony began with a chair marked "Agnes V" to commemorate the French New Wave pioneer, who died in March at age 90, and a performance of Without You, from Varda's 1962 film Cleo From 5 to 7, by Belgian singer Angele.

Inarritu, the Mexican maker of Birdman and The Revenant, is the first Latin American to preside over the jury that decides Cannes' top honor, the Palme d'Or.

Speaking earlier in the day alongside fellow jury members, the director drew a parallel between the rhetoric of Trump to that of the 1930s.

"We know how this story ends if we keep with that rhetoric," he said.

"We think we are evolving with technology and social media. It seems every tweet is a brick of isolation attached to ideological things and is creating a lot of isolation and paranoia."

This year's festival arrives with the usual swirl of celebrity and controversy.

Among the starrier films debuting at Cannes will be Quentin Tarantino's 1969-set Los Angeles tale Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Elton John biopic Rocketman. Also on tap are the latest from renowned auteurs Pedro Almodovar, Terrence Malick and the Dardennes brothers.

And then there is the debut by Mati Diop, Atlantique, which marks the first black female filmmaker in competition in Cannes.

Last year saw 82 women - the highest number of women directors to ever be in competition in Cannes - push for gender inequality on the festival's red carpeted steps. Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux signed a pledge to make the festival's selection process more transparent and to push toward gender parity.

This year there are four women in Cannes' 21-film main slate, tying 2011's high. For the first time, Cannes has revealed gender-based statistics on its submissions and selections, a measure of transparency requested by 50/50X2020, the French sister group of Time's Up.

Still, Fremaux had defended the festival's record, bristling at critics who said Cannes is not progressing quickly enough.

"People keep asking us what's it like being a woman director," said Italian filmmaker and Cannes regular Alice Rohrwacher, a jury member. "It's a bit like asking someone who's survived a shipwreck why they're still alive. Well, ask the person who built the boat."

Also on the jury are The Favourite director Yorgos Lanthimos, Poland's Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War), French director Enki Bilal, Senegalese actress-director Maimouna N'Diaye, French filmmaker Robin Campillo and actress Elle Fanning.

At 21, Fanning is the youngest-ever juror.

As was the case last year, there are no Netflix releases in competition.

Following an outcry from French cinema owners, the festival has required films on its main slate to have distribution in France.

Netflix, unwilling to adhere to an exclusive theatrical window of three years in France, last year pulled its films.

Some jury presidents have had a big influence on movies chosen for awards.

But Inarritu, who said he did not want to "judge" movies but preferred "to be impregnated by them," promised he would be a very passive leader.

"I have never controlled anything," he said. "Not my sets, not my family - nothing."

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