The absence of female nominees in the best director category at this year’s Césars has prompted fury and accusations of sexism. In a year which saw some highly acclaimed movies by women, it was, said Guslagie Malanda, the star of Alice Diop’s Saint Omer, “embarrsassing”. Well, plus ça change: in its 48-year-history, there has only ever been one female winner in the best director caetgory – Tonie Marshall, for Vénus Beauté in 2000. So what did Ms Marshall have that, it would seem, no other woman director has? Let’s take a look…
Vénus Beauté tells the story of Nadine and her team of three young beauticians who run a local beauty parlour where women go to iron out not just their worry lines but the worries themselves. It won four Césars including Best Director and Best Film and it launched the career of Audrey Tautou.
“I hit the jackpot,” Marshall said. “Success felt good considering so many people had spat on this film for so long […] It’s a lottery. But being the only woman to get Best Director can be embarrassing when you think of the talent out there. There are so many great female directors in France.”
Marshall was born in 1951 to American actor/director William Marshall and French actress Micheline Presle, whose seemingly glamorous life the young Tonie decided she wanted for herself.
She started out acting in movies and on TV in the early 1970s but didn’t make her debut behind the camera until 1989, with the comedy Pentimento, which she also wrote. Her next outing as director (and writer) was 1994’s Pas très Catholique, which was selected for the Berlin International Film Festival. But it was Vénus Beauté in 1999 that truly put her on the map as one of France’s best women filmmakers.
Marshall died of lung cancer on March 12, 2020, at the age of 68. As well as putting strong female characters at the core of her work, she is remembered for speaking out against an industry rife with chauvinism.
Her final film, Numéro Une (2017) about a brilliant female engineer trying to break through the glass ceiling, was, it seems apt. “If there were more women in preponderant positions, things could change, move along,” she said at the time of its release. Just a thought.
Tonie Marshall’s 10-second CV
Name: Tonie Marshall
Born: November 29, 1951 to the American actor/director William Marshall and French actress Micheline Presle.
Marshall started out acting on TV and in film with numerous roles throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Her first appearance was in 1970’s Les Saintes chéries. Marshall directed her first film, Pentimento, in 1989, and gave Eurotrash star Antoine de Caunes his first movie role.
Which of her films will I have I seen?
You’ve probably seen Vénus Beauté, a moving comedy set in a beauty parlour and starring Nathalie Baye.
What else should I put on my watch list?
Check out Numéro Une, the story of brilliant engineer Emmanuelle Blachey who seems to be smashing it in a man’s world… or is she?
C’est pas vrai!
Marshall signed the petition to ‘Free Roman Polanski’ following the film director’s arrest in Switzerland in 2009.
From France Today magazine
Lead photo credit : Director Tonie Marshall and Jean Paul Gaultier attend the 'From The Land Of The Moon (Mal De Pierres)' premiere during the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival © shutterstock
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