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The French director presents an unclassifiable film at Cannes, blending thriller, musical comedy, and transgender themes, starring Selena Gomez and Zoe Saldaña. A bold and surprising work.

Jacques Audiard, the French filmmaker awarded the Palme d’Or in 2015 for Dheepan, returns to the Croisette with Emilia Pérez, a film in competition that shakes up the codes of cinema. At 72, the director continues to surprise and offers an unclassifiable work, shot in Spanish, that brilliantly combines dark thriller, musical comedy, and transgender themes.

The film tells the story of Manitas, a powerful Mexican drug lord played by Spanish transgender actress Karla Sofía Gascón. Aspiring to radically change his life, Manitas decides to leave the criminal world to become a woman, Emilia Pérez, even if it means disappearing in the eyes of his wife (Selena Gomez) and children. To carry out his plan, he has a lawyer, Rita (Zoé Saldaña), kidnapped, who will become his closest collaborator.

Audiard addresses the issue of transgender identity with accuracy and sensitivity, offering a golden role to Karla Sofía Gascón. The 52-year-old actress, who herself changed gender at 46, brings remarkable authenticity and depth to her character, portraying both Manitas and Emilia, before and after the transition.

But Emilia Pérez does not merely explore its protagonist’s quest for identity. The film immerses the viewer in the dark reality of Mexican society, plagued by violence and poverty. Jacques Audiard manages to tackle these difficult themes with rare elegance, offering choreographed scenes set to captivating Latin rhythms, from reggaeton to traditional Mexican music, and even a classic French song.

Music is at the heart of this film, reminiscent of great musical comedy classics such as West Side Story. After considering a collaboration with Tom Waits and Gonzales, Audiard ultimately chose Camille, a renowned French artist, to compose the film’s songs. The lyrics evoke changing bodies to change souls and society, as well as the diversity of gender identities.

The quality of the sets and costumes, partially financed by Saint Laurent Productions, contributes to the film’s impeccable aesthetics. This collaboration also marks a first for a fashion house, which now fully integrates film production into its activities.

Unlike other veteran directors present at Cannes this year, such as Francis Ford Coppola with Megalopolis or Paul Schrader with Oh Canada, Jacques Audiard proves that he is still in touch with his time. His eclectic filmography, ranging from prison films to westerns and melodramas, demonstrates his ability to reinvent himself and surprise.

With Emilia Pérez, Audiard offers a prominent place to female characters, continuing the trend he initiated in Paris, 13th District, a chronicle of Parisian youth presented at Cannes three years ago. This bold and unclassifiable film could well win over the jury chaired by Greta Gerwig, herself accustomed to shaking up the codes with works like Barbie.

Emilia Pérez confirms Jacques Audiard’s talent and audacity, as he manages to reinvent the musical comedy by integrating powerful themes such as transgender identity and the violence of Mexican society. A film that is both dark and luminous, carried by exceptional performers.

With AFP