Robin Write at writeoutofla.com shares his favorite Palme d’Or winners at Cannes. Final installment of a three-part post.
The correlation between the winner of the Palme d’Or and the Best Picture Oscar (or more indirectly the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Awards) is often talked about, but never really a legitimate comparison given the kind of movies that are spotlighted. If it is sheer excellence and assortment we are talking about then you will find the sun shines brightest on the French Riviera. For the record though, only The Lost Weekend (1946) and Marty (1955) have matched up with these two.
Looking just at the last thirty years or so, you will find a very select few Palme d’Or winners that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar but missed out. Make up your own mind on the likes of Missing (1982, loses to Gandhi), The Mission (1986, loses to Platoon), The Piano (1993, loses to Schindler’s List), or Secrets & Lies (1996, loses to The English Patient). Some of those victors at Cannes would score Foreign Language Oscar nods, Pelle the Conqueror won in 1988, whereas Farewell My Concubine was only nominated in 1993. We should, though, be grateful for Palme d’Or winner Dancer in the Dark (2000) as this led all the way to Los Angeles with that very famous swan dress. As odd as she is, I still suspect Bjork was taking the piss out of the Academy as much as it was the other way around with regards to the movie’s omission.
Anyway, to close out my selection of fifteen memorable Palme d’Or winners, here are five more gems. Movies that may may require some endurance (all fly over the two hour mark), a strong stomach, and a full heart. Read on my movie-loving friends:
2013 – Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
The Past (Asghar Farhadi)
As a guy whose sexual preference steers toward females, I will hold my hands up right now and say that Blue Is the Warmest Color is not a great movie because of the undeniably unceasing love scene between Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux (I think it must be twenty minutes or so, right?). These two girls play a huge part in the movie’s excellence though, acting their hearts out for the better part of three hours. Newcomer Exarchopoulos in particular, as she must appear in every scene of the picture if I am not mistaken. Our personal journey with the somewhat unsatisfied, distracted Adèle (yes, character and actress share the same name) means we get to sit in class with her at school, walk the streets close by her, and experience directly her very private moments. Her relationship with Emma (Seydoux) deeply explores that first bloom of romance and physical companionship, your identity in such a relationship, and how to handle it for the duration. Adèle, who relishes her time in the self-discovery of youth venturing to adulthood, eventually learns the hard way of the pain that can surface with loving someone. Emotions are so raw and piercing here at times, Blue Is the Warmest Color can be really tough going to watch, but you just have to sit through it to the very end. Director Abdellatif Kechiche was on the receiving end of accusations that his working conditions on the making of the movie were unethical and way over what was required (there were murmours of this at the Cannes festival itself) – maybe that shows to some extent on the big screen.
2006 – The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach)
Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
Volver (Pedro Almodóvar)
I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the room when the Cannes jury were discussing the movies in competition this year. From Mexico (a great, great year for them in movies I might add) there was Babel and Pan’s Labyrinth, and we also had Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver. And that is just the most universal entries. The jury went head-first with Ken Loach and his heart-tugging tale of war in Ireland, and the ultimately ill-fated divide between two brothers. The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a remarkable achievement in all honesty, an important movie about sides of the fence, about personal beliefs, about sacrifices. It surprised me, for one, when it won the Palme d’Or, but there was some justification in my eyes when I saw it for myself. A rather refreshing win, it may look gorgeous at times, but don’t believe for a second this is not going to be bleak. To say Ken Loach (a cinematic legend here in the UK) is a Cannes regular is an understatement, his films being in competition is well into double figures now – Raining Stones, My Name is Joe, Land and Freedom, Hidden Agenda, Looking for Eric – to name a few worthy contenders. This, amazingly, was Loach’s first Palme d’Or victory in a medley of various other prizes he has received over the last thirty years or so. He was also given a 30th Anniversary Prize of the Ecumenical Jury for that career span of work in film.
1980 – All That Jazz (Bob Fosse)
Being There (Hal Ashby)
My American Uncle (Alain Resnais)
The seventies in movies was that decade when Francis Ford Coppola kept going head-to-head with Bob Fosse (both nominated for Best Director Oscar in 1972, 1974, and 1979 – wow). Coppola’s unparalleled achievement was taking two Best Picture Oscars and winning the Palme d’Or twice, all for four different movies in that one decade. Fosse famously took Best Director for Cabaret (1972). He then triumphed with All That Jazz at Cannes in 1980, a month after the film picked up four Oscars (the film is deemed a seventies picture on the skin of its U.S. release), sharing the Palme d’Or with Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha. Although the spine of the (semi-autobiographical) story is about Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) attempting to see the light (both toward death, and the error of his ways in life), to me, this musical is a real feast. I am pretty certain Scheider was not this good in anything else. Like Cabaret, it is choreographed and executed to perfection, like a fun grand illusion of dance and light. The tough subject matter is not always to sing and dance about, but magician Fosse blends it all together in majestic fashion. I am a real sucker for this. It is full of great set-pieces and play-again numbers, not forgetting of course that extraordinary final sequence, which is touchingly mesmerizing.
The Pianist (Roman Polanski)
Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore)
The Son (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
Victims of war portrayed on film are always going to be relevant, and Roman Polanski’s effort is one of the more outstanding executions of the subject in decades. In The Pianist, Adrien Brody’s Wladyslaw Szpilman ventures through the harrowing and brutal obstacle course of war-torn Warsaw. Shocking, heart-breaking scenes grab you by the throat. That, or you are forced instead to anticipate a horrible event – of which you had no desire to imagine in the first place. This is not a wholly gratuitous film document of war, more a gritty, grounded depiction of the struggles, anguish and unknown future that surround Szpilman and those around him. He is something of a passive presence, of course he never asked for any of this, but tries his damned-est to survive it. And his likely reflects thousands of other stories of a similar dreadful nature. Given the timing of the war in Iraq in 2003, Adrien Brody said some very touching words about the horrors of war and quest for peace when he won the Best Actor Oscar for The Pianist. He was the surprise win of that year, but you have to look back now and wonder how he was not the spoken front-runner. Even though Polanski won Best Director, AMPAS still criminally felt that Chicago was the better film. Palme d’Or trumps Oscar yet again.
1953 – The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot)
I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock)
Peter Pan (Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson)
The effective way the opening scenes of The Wages of Fear are shot may well be a great addition to any ‘How To’ educational film book. How To set the scene. How To get the audience attention right away. How To convey piercing heat on film. How To shoot film, period. I guess I am not the only one, too, to make the comparison between the strips of film-noir-like sunlight seeping through onto the shade, and the stripes on Linda’s revealing top. How To read too much into film? I don’t think so. Regardless, this a cracking motion picture, headed by the not-many-cooler-than Yves Montand as Mario. He is part of an exclusive, but desperate, band of men marooned in a scorching Mexican town tasked with a bumpy journey to aid an American oil company. “Where there’s oil, there’s America.”, quips Mario at one point. These misfits, once they do set off on the hazardous roads, are literally living life on the edge. But they need the money. And as far as nervous teeth-gritting is concerned, there is no expense spared. The ‘oh fuck’ ending (cutting back to the original, hot location of safety only to tease us) is one of the biggest sucker punch climaxes in cinematic history. I watched this again just a couple of days ago, and was almost convinced the ending might go a different way – of course, it did not.
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