Robin Write at writeoutofla.com shares his favorite Palme d’Or winners at Cannes. Second installment of a three-part post.
Did you know that the big prize, the Palme d’Or was called the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film between 1939 and 1954, and then again from 1964 to 1974? You did know that, fair enough. Did you know there were miltiple winners in 1946, including a select few even the most passive of cinema-goers will have heard of (Rome, Open City; Brief Encounter; The Lost Weekend)? You knew that too. Fine. In that case I will announce spoilers, then, that the likes of La dolce vita, Apocalypse Now, M.A.S.H., If…, and The Third Man do not appear in my fifteen choices. That is not to say I don’t like them, this is not about the definitive best remember?
Regardless, here are five more very significant Palme d’Or winners:
2011 – The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
Melancholia (Lars von Trier)
A movie that divides audiences is a movie worth debating. In Cannes in 2011 Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, an enigmatic motion picture experience, was received with some applause and some boos. Understandable, but an experience is what The Tree of Life is. A grand one. Perhaps not in the depths of how we try and figure out the universe itself, but you have to wonder how Malick conceives and then executes such a concept onto film. That wonder is part of the abstract appeal. In concrete terms, the cinematography itself is ridiculously majestic – you will struggle to find one movie that manages to fill every single frame with such captivating beauty. And that includes the whole origins of everything chapter that breaks the already diluted narrative, even detaches you. The selection and use of classical music is also something to be savoured. Jessica Chastain is as enchanting as any actress can be on screen here. And in that final extraordinary sequence I simply disappear. It may be dumbfounding or head-scratching at times, but it is quite the experience all the same. And the Cannes jury likely agreed.
1990 – Wild at Heart (David Lynch)
Cyrano de Bergerac (Jean-Paul Rappeneau)
Hidden Agenda (Ken Loach)
You could argue that David Lynch’s magnetic Wild at Heart crams into two hours a whole array of film genres and aesthetic values. It has drama, some melodrama, but also that of dark and eerie subject matter. There’s comedy in places, heavy splashes of violence, sequences of action and fantasy. A brutally convincing story of troubled lovebirds. This is a road movie, a crime movie, a thriller-not-quite-horror. It is vividly shot, with a terrific sound design. We are also melted by a couple of music numbers. It is shocking in places, fun in others. And of course it has all out weird. We’d be lucky enough to experience even more of this from Lynch for years to follow. When Wild at Heart screened at Cannes the movie was not well received by all. And even when it was announced as the winner of the Palme d’Or there were some boos from audience members at one point. Violence this, and tasteless that, the jury had the final say with regards to unparalleled and nifty film-making. At the end of the day maybe we’re just suckers for Elvis.
1998 – Eternity and a Day (Theodoros Angelopoulos)
Life is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni)
Velvet Goldmine (Todd Haynes)
There’s an unforgettable image of children clinging for dear life to a fence on the Albanian border amidst the vast white of snow. They could easily be angels, imagery not distracting us from the fact this is a moment of horror and beauty. A reminder that some children are indeed lost in the world, and need help getting home. Bearded writer Alexander appears to be suffering from a terminal illness when he comes across the young refugee boy, and begins a journey to return him to Albania. Angelopolulos’ camera drifts ever so slowly back and forth and wherever it may take us, including hovering through Alexander’s own memories. One charmingly endearing sequence of a bride and groom uniting in dance in a village street is certainly not out of place (and one of many enamoring long takes). It is in keeping with the notion that, as boy observes to man in a manner at one point, we can smile over the sadness. As well as the Palme d’Or, Eternity and a Day took the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.
1976 – Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)
Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders)
The Tenant (Roman Polanski)
Back in college, a friend of mine, a huge Scorsese nut by the way, said of Travis Bickle’s outburst at the end of Taxi Driver, that he did the wrong thing, but for the right reason. An interesting paradox, but he was kind of right. I think many of us subconsciously relate to the frightening notion in Taxi Driver that you can just snap and lose your shit. Not quite in that manner perhaps, but the personal resonance the movie has can not be denied. Somehow hailed as a kind of hero at the end of the film, Travis shakes this off, still misunderstood after all this time. Accompanying the monumental Robert De Niro for a good part of Travis’ somewhat sad, longing journey through isolation, is Bernard Herrmann’s final score. Both piercing and soothing, the music lingers for a long time, years, afterwards. You can hear it now, right? What also lingers for me, even as we approach forty years since it’s release, is whether Taxi Driver is actually Scorsese’s greatest film achievement. I have never completely decided, but have often thought that it is.
2004 – Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore)
The Motorcycle Diares (Walter Salles)
Oldboy (Park Chan-wook)
I suppose any documentary film-maker can put forward any argument, with the right video clips, some persuasive words and notions, some catchy songs or poignant music. But are we being manipulated here by Michael Moore? I don’t think so, but I don’t know all the facts. I mean, George W. Bush reading My Pet Goat while the World Trade Center was being hit by both planes? Those politicians knew exactly what they were saying, right? Were facts being distorted here? But seriously, for a documentary to win the Palme d’Or is a rare thing, and really something. Maybe Moore was onto something to audiences outside of America (though the jury president was Quentin Tarantino). I personally don’t care too much who likes Michael Moore, or who finds him a pest; the message put across in Fahrenheit 9/11 is not exactly breaking news. Watching it recently, eleven years after the film’s release, I still find myself shaking my head, gritting my teeth, recycling that anger and sadness. It’s a compelling account whichever way you look at it, and one that deserves attention.
Robin Write, longtime fixture at AwardsDaily, runs his own site at writeoutofla.com
You can follow him on twitter too.