By Brian Susbielles
Today, the Cannes Film Festival is ongoing and already one movie has been touted for awards, including the coveted Palme D’Or (Golden Palm), the award for Best Picture. Son of Saul from Hungary has already been a hit with viewers, with critics in the main category, while George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, released out-of-competition, and received a rousing ovation, confirming what the critics had been raving about already. Other notables coming out this week include Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees, Todd Haynes’ Carol, and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth. People also look at the jury who decides the winners for the Main Competition; the Coen Brothers lead the group, which also includes actor Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), and the underappreciated all-in-one Xavier Dolan (Mommy).
While many of us have looked at Toronto, Sundance, and Telluride for those Oscar-worthy films, it is Cannes that is the ultimate test of popularity because of its global reach. The audience is notoriously polarized with their responses; they will be bullish if the movie is terrible, but will respond with a standing ovation that will last minutes. It is also the place to show a filmmaker’s most controversial work and create controversy during the interviews. Question is, how did a small seaside town become the host of this majestic film festival and become this Spring break bash for adults?
The festival was founded in 1939 by the French Minister of National Education to establish an international celebration of cinema; initially to take place in the fall, its debut would be delayed till 1946 due to the war. After a few years, the festival was moved to the spring to avoid clashing with the Venice Film Festival, and in 1955, the Palme D’Or was formally created as the top prize. Its growth was credited to the constant arrival of major movie stars to see their films being presented, giving an extension of glamour to the Mediterranean. The beauty of movie stars has driven the critics – and the paparazzi – to Cannes every May.
The only time the festival was called off post-war took place in May of 1968, which was one of many protests around the world during that time. The wildcat general strike in Paris against the government, as well as the dismissal of the President of the Cinémathèque Française, led to many of the filmmakers such as Jean Luc-Godard and Louis Malle remove their works in protest and solidarity with the strike. The events of ’68 changed the Festival, opening the door to more art and countercultural works rather than just the classical style films that were being selected for showcasing.
Since then, modern day classics have given Cannes the distinguishing title of being the first to debut these works and be given the Palme D’Or. Among them are Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Sex, Lies, Videotape, Pulp Fiction, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Tree of Life, and Amour. Others who have debuted in Cannes to acclaim include Inglorious Bastards, Oldboy, Fargo, The 400 Blows, and The Artist, among others; the list of successful debuts is long.
Then, there are those who have been ridiculed by the hostile audience unafraid to show their distaste. Among the infamous include The Da Vinci Code, Marie Antoinette, Anti-Christ, Grace of Monaco, and The Brown Bunny, considered being the worst film ever shown at Cannes (I guess the explicit act of oral sex didn’t make it up). Strangely enough, Pulp Fiction and Taxi Driver were also booed, but because they won the Palme D’Or, which many believed should have gone to another film. And in recent memory, enfant terrible writer-director Lars Von Trier (of Anti-Christ) was banned from the festival after he, in a horrific attempt at sarcasm, stated he was sympathetic to Hitler and the Nazis.
Every year, there will always be that movie which is be considered an instant classic, that movie which will be totally head scratching to why it was even shown in Cannes, and that one moment where someone said something controversial or pulled a ridiculous stunt (I’m talking you Jerry Seinfeld in a bee costume). The festival is underway with boos and applauses already taking place; no one has done anything outrageous yet, but all eyes are on the red carpet towards the theater. Ruthless paparazzi and film critics are present to witness the circus full of the well-dressed and beautiful people. Many unknowns risk their career to be in this moment, but it has paid out to be life changing. 2015 will be like any other festival. Buckle your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy two weeks.