Cannes diary: the Festival offers stars a rare privilege: to grow old without shame

Cannes diary: the Festival offers stars a rare privilege: to grow old without shame

There are two Harrison Fords Indiana Jones: The Dial of Destiny: a digitally aged adventurer battling the Nazis for looted artifacts in 1944, and a retired college professor reluctantly recalled to the life of the high-speed chase in 1969. Who gets the shirtless scene in the movie? It would be 1969 Indy, played by contemporary Ford, now in her eighties, who is shown waking up in boxers and walking through Indy’s New York apartment.

The scene isn’t played for cheap joke laughs, nor does it appear that Ford spent months injecting growth hormones or recovering from invasive cosmetic treatments to prepare. No, this Indy looks like his good self, only older, like life has kicked him around, as it does if any of us are lucky enough to make it to 70 and beyond. And this image of a movie star that we’ve seen from her beautiful youth being allowed to grow old is rare and welcome. Complimenting his appearance in the film during the film’s press conference, Ford joked, “I’ve been blessed with this body. Thanks for noticing.

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One of the last publicly acceptable forms of prejudice in Hollywood is ageism, in which people who wouldn’t think of outright belittling someone’s gender, race, or sexuality feel comfortable using words like “old,” insulting an actor’s changing face or physique, or insinuating that it’s time for a writer or industry executive to hang up.

France has always had a more, well, mature view of aging than the United States, and a great place to find an alternative worldview when it comes to aging is the Cannes Film Festival, where this year stars like Ford, Helen Mirren, Michael Douglas and Catherine Deneuve arrived like a warm breeze from the Riviera to show the public a picture of life after 70 that reflects beauty, pleasure and joy.

‘I’m even older than the festival,’ mused Douglas, 78, as he received an honorary Palme d’Or at the opening ceremony, after the audience watched a reel showing his roles in films such as Wall Street, Primitive instinct AND Behind the candlestick. (At 76, the festival itself is reaching its peak.)

Mirren, 77, a L’Oréal ambassador, walked the red carpet on opening night with freshly dyed blue and purple hair, paired with her custom blue Del Core taffeta gown, and waving a bamboo fan that read “#WorthIt,” a nod to L’Oréal Paris’ slogan. Some who follow the festival online have mistakenly interpreted the Mirren fan as a statement about Johnny Depp, whose film, Joan of Barry, Cannes was opening, but the actress had a more practical explanation: “I got a fan because I was hot,” she said. If she Mirren was making a political statement, it was in the way she claimed blue hair, once an offensive way to describe an older woman. On youngsters, blue hair has been a cool counterculture symbol for years, worn by young celebrities like Billie Eilish and Ciara. On Mirren, it’s a punk rock punch in the mouth to anyone who expects older women to be invisible.

Deneuve, whose 1968 image in Alain Cavalier’s La Chamade (heartbeat) gracing the official poster at Cannes this year and looming with detached glamor over the Palais, she opened the festival by reciting a poem, “Hope,” by Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka, an acknowledgment of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that took place on the other side of Europe. At 79, Deneuve has made nine films in the past five years.

The reason that matters, and it’s not just a cute “let’s pat grandma on the head” sentiment, is that it’s so rare. According to a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study released in February, of the 100 highest-grossing films released in 2022, only 10 featured a woman 45 years of age or older at the time of theatrical release as the lead or co-lead; 35 of those films depicted a man in the same age group. (As with the rest of civilization, Hollywood is crueller to women.) Annenberg’s study doesn’t break down that 45+ demographic any further, to see how often 70+ actors lead the action. To ignore those actors, however, as well as the writers and directors and producers and craftsmen with that kind of life experience, is a loss to the film industry and to culture at large.

Martin Scorsese, 80, present at the festival to preview his new film, The flower moon killersrecently told Expiration that he feels the most creatively engaged, just as he also hears the ticking clock of his own mortality. “I want to tell stories and there’s no more time,” Scorsese said. In Cannes, at least, we can take a moment.