Jane Campion, Bright Star, 2009, still from a color film in 35 mm, 119 minutes. Fanny Brawne and John Keats (Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw).

THREE WOMEN DIRECTORSAndrea Arnold, Jane Campion, and Isabel Coixet—have films in competition at Cannes this year, making 2009 the most distaff-heavy in the history of the festival. With Bright Star, her first film since In the Cut (2003), Campion, the only woman ever to win the Palme d’Or, for The Piano (1993), proved that the six years between projects were worth it. Bright Star, about the romance between John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his neighbor Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), was warmly received at this morning’s press screening and was one of the first films to be bought (with a release slated for September 18); the film magically transcends its standard literary-biopic structure into a lush, deeply moving love story.

Other female auteurs returning after lengthy hiatuses didn’t fare quite as well. Marina de Van followed up her thrillingly audacious, gory debut In My Skin (2002)—about a woman’s morbid fascination with her own body (in which de Van also plays the lead)—with the out-of-competition, Midnight Selection title Don’t Look Back, which had audience members guffawing (one French journo appeared to be trying to strangle the screen). When an author played by Sophie Marceau tries to recover childhood memories, she slowly morphs into another Euro-starlet: Monica Bellucci. The conceit is far more enticing in description than in execution; one of the hazards of such shape-shifting apparently includes sudden-elephantiasis-of-the-leg syndrome.

Yet for every dud at Cannes, an unexpected, exquisite pleasure isn’t too far behind. Pedro Costa’s sublime documentary Ne Change Rien, playing in the Directors’ Fortnight, captures lithe, majestic French actress/singer Jeanne Balibar at rehearsals, recording sessions, and a classical-music tutorial. Shot in lustrous black-and-white, Ne Change Rien begins with Balibar, filmed in silhouette, singing (in English), “Tortuuuuuuuuure / Baby, you’re torturing me.” As the title says, don’t change anything.

Other magnificent creatures were seen in the flesh. Tilda Swinton, who looked as though she could’ve passed for David Bowie’s twin sister during his Thin White Duke phase, attended the special screening of the restored The Red Shoes (1948), introduced by Martin Scorsese, whose Film Foundation cofunded the restoration of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s masterpiece. Its feverish Technicolor more eye-popping than ever, The Red Shoes gave us the day’s most heavenly screen beauty: Moira Shearer, her red hair and blue eyes aflame.

Melissa Anderson