Cate Blanchett voices an abstract VR journey through the human body

Cannes (France) (AFP) - From a voyage through the human body with Cate Blanchett, to a feminist superhero satire featuring giant tampons and octopus demons, the Cannes Film Festival launches its first competition for virtual reality films on Wednesday.

Blanchett, Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell are among the A-list talent attached to projects in the “Immersive” section, a new venture for the world’s most famous film festival, which is currently taking place in the south of France.

Eight VR films will compete for a new award recognising the rapidly growing medium, including “Maya: The Birth of a Superhero”, which takes viewers on a surreal and interactive journey through puberty and the many global stigmas surrounding menstruation.

It puts the audience in the role of a young South Asian girl as she navigates a London classroom packed with bullying teenagers, a confrontation with her mother in her bedroom and various mystical dreamscapes.

Indian-born director Poulomi Basu said immersing people through a VR headset was the “perfect way to tell the story”.

“The experience of every girl of coming into your femininity and womanhood is a very isolating experience – one that is claustrophobic, one that is psychologically difficult.

“To encounter shame in such a close proximity… we feel like we matched the medium and the message perfectly.”

But the technology allows audiences to use their hands to fight back, shooting fire at villains who are both human and demon in a film that “uses the superhero trope almost as a satire”.

“We wanted this to be the last word on superhero-origin stories, period,” said co-director C.J. Clarke.

- Hollywood voices -

Elsewhere, Blanchett narrates “Evolver”, which takes viewers on an abstract journey through the human body.

Chastain’s voice accompanies the audience into and through a black hole in space in “Spheres”, while Farrell narrates a clash between man and zombie in “Gloomy Eyes”.

Cannes’ introduction of the new section comes seven years after Mexican auteur Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu showcased the groundbreaking “Carne y Arena” at the festival.

A virtual reality installation that took viewers on the harrowing migrant trail through the Sonoran desert into the United States, “Carne y Arena” later won a special Oscar.

Other major festivals, including Venice, already have established sections for immersive film.

Basu said it was “massive” that Cannes was now giving the burgeoning medium its own space and financial support.

“I think Cannes accepts that it is a cinematographic art form… it needs its own celebration,” she said.