Narco sex-change musical early favourite at Cannes

May 19, 2024
Cast member Selena Gomez poses on the red carpet during arrivals for the screening of the film "Emilia Perez" in competition at the 77th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France on May 18,2024. — Reuters

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.