The impact of the Cannes Film Festival on world cinema after 75 years

Shortly after attending my first Cannes Film Festival nearly 35 years ago, I was still green and naive enough to ask longtime Cannesites why the famous French festival held such a powerful place in the pecking order. international film gatherings. The late Richard Corliss, Time magazine’s beloved and outstanding film critic, responded warmly and succinctly, with his own more mundane question: “Would you rather be in Germany in the winter or in the south of France in the spring? “

Corliss was right, but in the decades since I’ve held my own dozen Cannes festivals under my belt, I’ve put together my own list of reasons why Cannes remains the only film festival that people who have never been to a film festival have heard of it and want to go, and know that if a film scores there, it must be worth it.

From the late 70s to Cannes today, only two people, first Gilles Jacob and then Thierry Frémaux, have run the festival.

Both have reigned with passion, both fiercely competitive and determined that the primacy of Cannes will not fade as they stand from the top of the steps of the Palace saluting the world’s greatest filmmakers.

Let’s start with how Cannes remains a major player in the awards season game. Despite the fact that film awards season is starting in earnest every year – which makes Cannes’ May dates seem less appealing – here’s a quick rundown of the Oscar hits that premiered at Cannes. :

The culmination of the Frémaux era is Bong Joon Ho’s historic 2020 run to the Best Picture Oscar, marking the first time in history that a foreign-language film has won the top Oscar award. This race began in Cannes last May when “Parasite” won the Palme d’Or.

And before that epic triumph, there were these great players of awards season:

• “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (2019) 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Film after its Cannes competition.
• “Cold War” (2018) After a director’s award at Cannes, the Polish drama won three Oscar nominations.
• “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) George Miller’s photo won six Oscars. And he’s back this year with out-of-competition drama “Three Thousand Years of Longing” starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton.
• “Amour” (2013) After winning the Palme d’or, Michael Haneke’s film received five Oscar nominations, including that of foreign language film.
• ‘No country for old people’ (2007) Joel and Ethan Coen’s photo won four Oscars, including Best Picture after his bow at Cannes.
• “Secrets et Lies” (1997) Bowed to Cannes and subsequently won five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
• “Pulp Fiction” (1994) Seven Oscar nominations including Best Film following a Palme d’Or at Cannes.

This impressive tally of awards season wins inevitably leads to the subject of curation, which is, after all, the raison d’etre and the sine qua non of all film festivals.

“Parasite” cast and director Bong Joon Ho (center back row) debuted the film at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it began its journey to its best ever picture at the Oscars.

In Jacob’s time, the American connection grew stronger as American cinema was transformed by the powerful outburst of creative energy known as New Hollywood, which was largely driven by new freedoms and filmmakers watching many French New Wave films.

Jacob and his team of curators packed the Cannes competition lineup with names including Francis Coppola, Paul Mazursky, Hal Ashby, Susan Seidelman, Bob Fosse, Dennis Hopper, Walter Hill, Michael Cimino, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich , Clint Eastwood, Jim Jarmusch and Robert Altman.

But as impressive as this assemblage of American authors was, Cannes’ veritable manna of American cinematic talent, full of promise and ripe for global discovery, was always around the corner. Thanks to the emergence of the Sundance Film Festival, the home video boom, and alternative funding systems that opened doors for adventurous filmmakers on a budget, a new world of vital, new visions packed arthouses and even multiplexes.

At the end of the 80s, the boom in American independent cinema was accelerating and Jacob’s fingers were taking the pulse of this new new wave. Jacob’s juries helped boost the careers of future legends such as Steven Soderbergh, David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers, all of whom won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes in their first film runs.

And their victories were won alongside fellow American Independent Revolutionaries Spike Lee, David Mamet, Bill Duke, Hal Hartley, Abel Ferrara, Todd Haynes, John Sayles and James Gray, all of whom contributed to the feeling that Cannes celebrated its 50th anniversary. anniversary in 1997 with the energy of a hungry young filmmaker full of Palace dreams.

This adrenaline rush from the critical American market has been accompanied by shrewd programming choices from Asia, of particular interest to the late, long behind the Cannes stages, pro/cinema consigliere Pierre Rissient.

The success story of “Parasite” follows 30 years of groundbreaking Asian cinematic offerings at Cannes, from filmmakers such as Wong Kar Wei, Zhang Yimou, Naomi Kawase and Jia Zhangke. Shohei Imamura’s “The Eel” shared the Palme d’Or with Abbas Kiarostami’s “Taste of Cherry” and Hou Hsiao-Hsien competed four times in the 90s.

Chen Kaige’s films scored five spots in competition, and his 1993 art house hit “Farewell My Concubine” won the Palme d’Or (shared with future Oscar winner Jane Campion and her hit “The Piano”).

But Cannes is more than a great showcase for film personalities. For at least 60 years, pomp and frivolity have been paid for by the Cannes Market, run for decades by Jérôme Paillard, now retired but previously indefatigable.

The festival may be where the “serious” filmmakers strut their stuff, but the market is where hawkers and yachtsmen ogled talent and negotiated deals that would pay their espressos at least €10.

This world is changing and that worries me, but fortunately there are new sources of income and a lot of brand launches and press stunts are still brewing under the sun of the Croisette. May the wave of Cannes hype last for a long time.

But to go back to the simple logic of Richard Corliss, which is basically “Where and how do you want to spend your time on this planet? », I have to insert my own personal prejudices on Cannes by answering the question: « Why Cannes? ”

Is Ken Loach’s “Raining Stones” my favorite movie of all time?

Is Kieslowski’s “Red” at the Palace the greatest cinematic moment of my life?

Have there been greater film festival moments in my life than seeing Madonna decked out in Gaultier dazzle a crowd of thousands; U2 live on the steps of the Palace; an Emmanuelle Béart in the lobby of the Majestic; Tom Jones singing and rocking at Anjelica Huston’s beach party; precious meals at La Mère Besson and Colombe d’Or; Elton John pounding the keys with the Mediterranean throbbing behind him; Chopard’s sleek new stars and delectable dance backs; dinners with the likes of the pre-Palme Tarantino and post-Palme Coen brothers; a garden feast with Uma Thurman and Nick Nolte courtesy of Mr. Merchant and Mr. Ivory?

Why Cannes? Why the hell not?

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