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Director Tommy Lee Jones poses for photographers during a photo call for The Homesman at the 67th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Sunday, May 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
CANNES, France (AP) — In westerns, women are usually bit players, relegated to fleeting domestic scenes before the men set out on adventure.

On Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival, Tommy Lee Jones premiered a western from a more female perspective. His "The Homesman" is about a single woman farmer (Hilary Swank) on the Nebraska plains during Westward expansion.

Called "bossy" by suitors, the strong-willed Mary Bee Cuddy volunteers to take three women who have grown crazy on the desolate landscape to Iowa. She enlists an outlaw, played by Jones, to help on the weeks-long journey. Cuddy and the women are generally treated as mere cargo in the race West — which Jones said he considers historical roots to sexism today.

"I don't think there's a woman in this room has never felt objectified or trivialized because of her gender," Jones said to festival reporters. "There's a reason for that and a history of that, and I think that's an interesting thing."

It's the second time directing a feature for the 67-year-old Jones, whose 2005 "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" was warmly received by critics. "The Homesman," which co-stars Meryl Streep, John Lithgow and Hailee Steinfeld, had a more mixed reaction in Cannes.

Jones declined to see his film as a western.

"I don't understand that word," he said of "genre." ''It's a consideration of the history of Westward expansion, a way of looking at what the school children of America learn on the subject of Manifest Destiny."

— Jake Coyle, AP Film Writer, http://twitter.com/jake—coyle