‘How We Look, How We Carry Ourselves’

A scandalous age-gap relationship plays out at the center of “May December,” which debuted on Saturday to raves at the Cannes Film Festival. In the starry romantic drama directed by Todd Haynes, Julianne Moore plays the “December” to Charles Melton’s much-younger “May,” a character who was just 13 when the two fell in love.

“An age gap is one thing, but a relationship between an adult and a child is a different thing entirely,” Moore said at Sunday’s press conference for “May December,” which was embraced in the Grand Palais the day prior with an enthusiastic six-minute standing ovation.

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“When is age inappropriate? It’s when people are in different places developmentally, when someone is not an adult. This is why we have boundaries around that,” she adds. “The reason why this movie feels so dangerous watching it is because people don’t know where anyone’s boundaries are. It feels scary.”

In “May December,” Natalie Portman plays an actress who travels to Georgia to study the life of Moore’s character, whom she’s set to play in a film. Moore and Melton portray as married couple whose 20-year age gap inspired a national tabloid scandal. As they plan to send their twin girls off to college, the family dynamic begins to buckle as Portman delves into their past.

Given America’s obsession with scandal, Portman says there was no shortage of material to mine for inspiration.

“We had all the inspirational tabloid materials that existed. There was a book with a crazy title, like ‘Punished for Love,’ or something like that,” she recalled. “We had those resources at our fingertips, which was helpful at getting background.”

Portman describes the film as a study of “the different roles we play in different environments.” She observes that discrepancy is particularly on display at the Cannes Film Festival, where women are mandated to wear heels on the red carpet.

“Even here, the different ways we, as women, are expected to behave at this festival even compared to men… how we’re supposed to look, how we’re supposed to carry ourselves,” she said. “The expectations are different on you all the time. It affects how you behave, whether you are buying into or rejecting it. You’re defined by the social structures upon you.”

In that regard, Portman and Moore spoke of their appreciation in getting to play women who are fully developed and “simply human.”

“It’s incredible to get to be part of a film like this, which has two complex women characters who are full of delicious conflicts,” says Portman.

Moore adds, “Women are not a minority group. We’re 50% of the population. So it’s important we’re treated as such.”

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