Narco sex-change musical early favourite at Cannes

Sunday, May 19, 2024

CANNES, France: An intriguing musical about a Mexican drug lord escaping the narco life with a sex change -- featuring Selena Gomez in a supporting role -- premiered at Cannes on Saturday.

The plot for “Emilia Perez” initially sounded too crazy even for France’s shape-shifting master director Jacques Audiard, who previously won the festival’s top prize Palme d’Or in 2015. But gushing reviews suggest Audiard may be a favourite to win again as the competition reaches its halfway point.

The film stars Zoe Saldana, of “Avatar” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”, as a lawyer enlisted by the cartel boss who has always wanted to be a woman.

There were rave reviews for 52-year-old trans actor Karla Sofia Gascon in the title role. Gascon transitioned at 46 having already built a family and a career in Spanish-language films and soap operas, and has written a book about her experiences with homophobia and transphobia.

Gomez plays the boss’s unsuspecting wife in a surprisingly gritty turn for the mega-selling popstar-turned-actor.

This year’s Cannes, which concludes on May 25, has seen two American veteran directors deliver end-of-life testaments -- Francis Ford Coppola’s deeply divisive “Megalopolis” and Paul Schrader’s deathbed tale, “Oh, Canada”.

But Audiard has delivered a film that is bursting with youthful exuberance and audacious entertainment, as catchy reggaeton, Mexican tunes and French chanson are subtly mixed into a drama that tackles gender identity, gang violence and disappearances.

Deadline called it “crazy, but also a marvel”, while The Hollywood Reporter said it was “fresh, full of vitality and affecting”.

The film was part-financed by Saint Laurent, the first fashion house to build a fully fledged film production company into its activities.