Bonjour from Cannes. Or bonjour to you all in Cannes. The true festive season is upon as we travel over to the French Riviera for arguably the world’s finest film festival. Whether you’re there in body or spirit, we are baking in the excitement here at Filmotomy. So much so, we have scoured the internet for some of the very best films, former winners at the Cannes Film Festival over the years, available for you to stream right now. Or when you have finished that croissant. Here are 10 to feed the addiction, Bianca Garner gets the ball rolling with 5 big prize winners from the 1940s. The others will follow as comfortably and conveniently as the train from Nice.
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Roma città aperta – 1946 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film
By 1944 there was virtually no film industry in Italy and no money to fund films. However film director Roberto Rossellini set out to capture the life of the city after August 1944, just two months after the Allies had forced the Nazis to evacuate Rome. The devastation that was the result of the war surrounded Rossellini, Fellini, and Amidei as they wrote the script. They titled it Roma, città aperta and declared publicly that it would be a history of the Roman people under Nazi occupation.
In order to authentically portray the hardships and poverty of Roman people under the occupation, Rossellini hired mostly non-professional actors for the film, with some exceptions of established stars including Aldo Fabrizi and Anna Magnani, and the director relied more on improvisation than on a script. It paid off as not only did this film win the Grand Prize at Cannes, but also marked the start of the neorealism film movement which changed the cinematic landscape forever.
The Lost Weekend – 1946 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film
Directed by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, this highly controversial film is based on Charles R. Jackson’s 1944 novel of the same name about an alcoholic writer. Interestingly, Wilder was originally drawn to this material after having worked with Raymond Chandler on the screenplay for Double Indemnity.
Chandler was a recovering alcoholic at the time and the stress during the collaboration caused him to start drinking again. It is reported that when it was shown to a preview audience, they laughed at Milland’s performance, and the studio actually considered shelving the film. However it is a good job that they didn’t as, The Lost Weekend is one of only two films to win both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the highest award at Cannes.
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Brief Encounter – 1946 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film
This British romantic drama directed by David Lean is among one of the director’s most well known and well loved films. The film is about British suburban life on the eve of World War 2, centering on Laura (Celia Johnson), a mother and wife, whose conventional life becomes increasingly complicated when her path crosses with a married stranger, Alec at a railway station. They fall in love, bringing about unexpected consequences.
The film was released amid the social and cultural context of the Second World War when ‘brief encounters’ were thought to be commonplace and women had far greater sexual and economic freedom than previously. It is also worth mentioning that many believe that the film’s subject matter was actually in response to the playwright’s Noel Coward’s own sexuality, and many gay men also viewed the plight of the characters as comparable to their own social constraint.
The Third Man – 1949 Grand Prix
This 1949 British film noir directed by Carol Reed, written by Graham Greene, is considered by many to be the greatest British film of all time. Starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard, the film takes place in post-World War II Vienna.
It centres on Holly Martins, an American who is given a job in Vienna by his friend Harry Lime, but when Holly arrives in Vienna he discovers that Lime is dead. Martins then meets with Lime’s acquaintances in an attempt to investigate what he considers a suspicious death. The film is very effective in capturing the atmosphere of the post-war Vienna at the start of the Cold War.
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Robert Altman – 1992 Prix de la mise en scène
What Cannes Best Director winner Robert Altman and screenwriter Michael Tolkin achieved with The Player was astonishing. Blending the renowned cross-dialogue, directing a huge cast, and telling a compelling, relevant story. A satire on Hollywood film studio executives with Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) in the hot seat, add to that pitching screenwriters, apparent death threats, actual murder. The cross-over of film and reality through a series of challenging events and the production of a new movie brought to the table is handled expertly under Altman.
He has been here before of course, the huge cast in black comedy territory, The Player impressively features over 60 celebrity cameos, with prominent roles given to the likes of Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Richard E. Grant, and Dean Stockwell. The compelling irony is impossible to resist, especially given the “No stars, just talent” selling point.
Brenda Blethyn – 1996 Prix d’interprétation féminine
What a wreck Cynthia is, you might note while watching Mike Leigh‘s Secrets & Lies. Bleak and uncompromising, yes of course, this film is, but Brenda Blethyn carries with her the open wounds and tired legs of single motherhood in council estate England. It’s a brittle and important backdrop to the story of a woman, a bag of nerves in fact, coming to terms with the discovery the daughter she gave away at birth is a young black woman.
We, the audience, partially feel the shock and social acclimatization that Cynthia seems to be going through, as she struggles to keep it together. This is engulfed later when breaking the news to her already emotional, crumbling family. Blethyn is manic, warmly real, and utterly brilliant in every scene. As well as Best Actress, the film took the Palme d’Or and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.
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Pulp Fiction – 1994 Palme d’Or
I was a teenager when Pulp Fiction exploded all over the world’s cinema. Even I, though, as the young student of film, was aware that Quentin Tarantino had made a movie that was not perhaps suited for the likes of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, let alone the prestigious Palme d’Or. Having declared he does not make the kind of movies that bring people together, Tarantino and his team must have felt they had gate-crashed the party. Well, they kind of did.
The ridiculously original, incomprehensibly funny crime caper appeared to get mixed reactions when announced as the winner of the big prize, but there is no denying Pulp Fiction as a master stroke of film-making of recent times. It would go to the Oscars, but they were not quite ready to give it Best Picture (or a certain prison movie). Tarantino has since built an illustrious, booming filmography on his terms, but he has certainly not matched the bravura or excellence of this since then.
Oldeuboi – 2004 Grand Prix
It is difficult to talk about the dynamic filmmakers of Cannes over the years without mentioning a select, special few. And Park Chan-wook is certainly in that illustrious list. Heading to France as a jury member last year, the South Korean writer-director has a hefty filmography shadowing him – including the much fancied The Handmaiden in competition a couple of years back.
Already honored at the festival, lastly when Thirst won the Jury Prize in 2009, it was the dark, devastating Oldeuboi (Oldboy) in 2004 that won Chan-wook the Grand Prix. A exceptional chapter in his accidental vengeance trilogy – with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and Lady Vengeance. Oldeuboi is both disturbing and brutal, but the energetic style, ridiculously good performances, and the filmmaker’s unbridled talent shines through in abundance. Losing the Palme d’Or to the rather hit-and-miss, now dated documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 by Michael Moore, seems like an even odder choice as the years roll by.
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La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 – 2013 Palme d’Or
Regardless of sexual preference, I will hold my hands up right now and say that La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 (Blue Is the Warmest Color) is not just a great movie because of the undeniably unceasing love scene between Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. These two girls act their hearts out for the better part of three hours. Newcomer Exarchopoulos in particular, as she must appear in every scene of the picture. 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. 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 murmors of this at the Cannes festival itself) – maybe that shows to some extent on the big screen. Jury President Steven Spielberg awarded the Palme d’Or to “Adèle, Léa, and Abdellatif” in an unprecedented honor – one of the great Cannes victories.
The Tree of Life – 2011 Palme d’Or
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.
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. The selection and use of classical music is also something to be savored. Jessica Chastain is as enchanting as any actress can be on screen here. And in that final extraordinary sequence I simply disappear.
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