The second set of winners from the history of Cannes was already set to include the Italian filmmaker Ermanno Olmi for his Palme d’Or win in 1978. Sadly, he passed away just prior to this year’s festival, making his entry here all the more poignant and essential. God rest his soul. His most famous film is below, with 9 other big winners from Cannes.
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Isabelle Huppert – 2001 Prix d’interprétation féminine
Where actresses are concerned in Cannes, there seldom is a limited range of women from which the voters have to make their decision on who is “best”. The diversity of films that tend to be in competition at the festival each year means they might often be spoilt for choice. A certain French legend of an actress has won the Best Actress prize twice. As far as movies about the relationships between the music tutor and student are concerned, if Whiplash is still playing heavy on your mind, you really ought to go seek out Michael Haneke‘s astoundingly brutal La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher).
A much harder slap in the face, I can tell you. Physically, mentally, sexually, Isabelle Huppert‘s Erika is humiliated and brutalized, and much of it self-inflicted. The performance is, and the movie itself, tough-going to watch at times, but never does it lose your attention. Huppert is worn-down and emotionally battered here, even from the opening scene. And she continues to deliver a raw and uncomfortably exceptional performance right through to the very end. Haneke would win the Palme d’Or for The White Ribbon years later – guess who the Cannes jury president was?
L’Albero degli zoccoli – 1978 Palme d’Or
Portraying a part of history he had a certain longing for, as well as carefully unwrapping the stories of his own descendents, Ermanno Olmi directed and wrote L’Albero degli zoccoli (The Tree with the Wooden Clogs), something of a self-declared interpretation of late 19th century Lombard peasant life in Northern Italy – by non-acting folk no less. Like a museum of a poor farming community, some may believe there’s little interest in strolling around an historical recreation, but the film’s purity and rawness is unavoidably touching and engaging.
Among the day-to-day routines, the bellowing adults, the inquisitive imaginations of the children, is a rich portrayal of rural family life, a credit to that bygone but important part of Italian history. Chosen ahead of such films as Violette Nozière, Coming Home, Midnight Express, An Unmarried Woman, Olmi walked off with the Palme d’Or, as well as the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. R.I.P. Ermanno, you left your mark.
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Hal Hartley – 1998 Prix du scénario
From where I am sitting Hal Hartley appears to be one of the under-rated film-maker forces in the business. Of course he is not the only one. He appears to be one of the rare few though that continues to make movies his way, and mostly for peanuts, a true indie. His unique dead-pan, but very witty dialogue, and his intentionally amateur-dramatic, but very charming performances, are just two of his consistent ingredients.
Henry Fool came nearly ten years after his debut (The Unbelievable Truth), but this is the film, if I had to guess, non-avid Hartley fans (unlike myself) know him for. It spawned two follow-on projects, the more transparent Fay Grim, and the recent return to form Ned Rifle, with the same principle characters. This first oddball and utterly intelligent adventure then takes the disruptive stranger in town element (Hartley seems so fond of), and has the title character dissect the Grim family. Henry, who already has a troubled past catching up with him, leaves in his path an even more perturbed poet son, and impregnates his sister – which is where Ned comes in. The screenplay is snappy, smart, and funny in some of the wrong places. Which is what makes it irresistible.
Les parapluies de Cherbourg – 1964 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film
Harmoniously and heart-renderingly written and directed by Jacques Demy, with the music written by Michel Legrand, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) is a rare thing – a musical that delivers every line of dialogue through song, without coming over saccharine, awkward, or unaffecting. Many have tried since and failed, or perhaps not quite hit the mark set here. A story of romance through three intelligently defined chapters, the film’s leads Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo, light up the screen with adoration, woe, and longing. The stellar photography and the full use of color for the costume and (in particular) set design, fortify the whole affair with a true-to-the-heart radiance and remorse.
As well as Guy and Geneviève’s deep love, the never over-stated sub-plots feature a disapproving mother, ailing aunt, a pregnancy, a suitor in Guy’s absence (Roland from Demy’s prior film Lola) and an unrequited love. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg was sandwiched between Lola (1961) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) in an unofficial trilogy, and won the Palme d’Or (then renamed ‘Grand Prix International du Festival’). Although four Academy Award nominations spread across Foreign Film, music, and writing, the film is sinfully under-rewarded in that field, given the huge success of future ventures that were heavily inspired by this. You’re very welcome, Damien Chazell.
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4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile – 2007 Palme d’Or
A Screenplay prize winner for Beyond the Hills in Cannes in 2012, Cristian Mungiu had a few years prior taken the Palme d’Or for his brilliantly bleak but somehow enlightening 4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). His screenwriting and directorial execution here is not afraid to be ruthless and authentically awkward as his characters (in particular Otilia played by the exceptional Anamaria Marinca) have to passively engage in extremely sensitive circumstances as well as blunt, discrete conversations.
The plot focusing around an illegal abortion performed in a hotel room, and the rich, fine-tuned dialogue that carries it, is all handled with as much genuine recklessness as one would expect given the situations. Yet somehow there is a raw, down-to-earth nature to the whole affair, making it believable in it’s most nerve-cringing moments. Unsettling as it is magnetic, it’s an astonishing film achievement, worth every ounce of its weight in gold, and not a drop of cinema is wasted.
Terrence Malick – 1979 Prix de la mise en scène
Chosen above heavyweight Francis Ford Coppola for Apocalypse Now (which won the Palme d’Or), Terrence Malick triumphed as Best Director in Cannes 1979. I remember when I was very, very young, watching a documentary about cinematography (as you do), and there was a significant discussion on Days of Heaven. I watched film frames capture so much scenery, and the camera moving, eloquent and glorious work I, as a kid, had not really seen too much of. And was now being educated, and certainly appreciating the craft. Néstor Almendros won Best Cinematography at the Oscars, and this movie is a text-book example of the craft, even now.
Malick, though, is a true master behind the camera, an artist who can incorporate his bold skill as a director into the movement and vision of the camera frame. He has since worked with the likes of cinematographers John Toll and Emmanuel Lubezki, with similarly amazing visual results. Sometimes his landscapes are untouchable, a real treat for the eyes. Days of Heaven was the promise he has soon kept. A mere 32 years would float on by before he would claim the Palme d’Or himself, for Tree of Life.
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Ta’m-e gilas – 1997 Palme d’Or
Abbas Kiarostami is a name you ought to know. Crafting some truly mesmerizing, intelligent, authentic depictions of social Iran, the film-maker knows his culture like the back of his hand. In 1997, Ta’m-e gilas (Taste of Cherry) shared the Palme d’Or win with Shohei Imamura’s The Eel. It was quite a victory, given what the film has to say about a composed, planned suicide, and the intellectual, philosophical conversations that Mr Badii (brilliantly subtle Homayoun Ershadi) the protagonist has as he drives around rural Tehran in search of someone to assist him in his post-ritual wishes.
The characters he encounters are finely tuned, and offer Mr Badii varying perspectives of right and wrong, but also the deep-seated morality and consequences of his actions. Seemingly going ahead with his plan during a thunderstorm we are given the seconds to ponder on the outcome – Kiarostami turns the narrative on its head in the final moments, blending the bemusing with the genius.
James Schamus – 1997 Prix du scénario
Good writing, really good film writing, can surpass (or aid) the talents of an actress, actor or film director. The character actions, where the story takes you, the spoken words. The screenplay. Ang Lee‘s never-to-be-forgotten gem The Ice Storm is a tale so full of promise and innocence that in the end runs effectively cold as the array of characters collide with wrong side of their emotional climate. The coming of age cliche more then proficiently lands itself with the adults too, who at times seem clueless and lost, as the kids make their own mistakes, so naively eager to explore their futures in a hurry.
So subtle and mellow is the touching drama on offer here, I suspect there are few out there that have forgotten how much of a classic AMPAS omission this was. Sure, Lee has been rewarded twice by Oscar since then (both as Director with no Picture win), but as well as the buzz Sigourney Weaver was getting the whole awards season that year, James Schamus‘ screenplay was one of the best that year – and deserved a mention. The Cannes jury, however, made a great call among some other exceptional personal stories in competition – Gary Oldman’s Nil by Mouth and Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter can’t have been far off.
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The Wind That Shakes the Barley – 2006 Palme d’Or
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. Babel, Pan’s Labyrinth, Marie Antoinette, Volver. 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. Of course, Loach was the victor again two years ago when I, Daniel Blake took the top prize.
Kirsten Dunst – 2011 Prix d’interprétation féminine
Lars von Trier has never quite sat right with me, I can see his excellence when it comes to filmmaking, he makes quite the impact, but his films on the whole have left me too cold to consider great. And his mouth often dents his appeal. His 2011 film Melancholia, however, is a master stroke, in writing, acting, directing, and to von Trier a somewhat personal journey. His leading lady Kirsten Dunst is incredible here, saying every callous and impulsive line with such truth I believed her character Justine. Every movement on her face tells a story or a feeling, a longing to be away or alone, in a film which hosts her wedding but also the imminent end of the world.
At the Cannes Film Festival, it was just a shame that an actress of such high regard and class had to endure von Trier’s press conference ramble regarding his German heritage that quickly morphed into irresponsible remarks about Jews, Nazis, an empathy towards Adolf Hitler. The festival officials labeled him “persona non grata”, that is to say he was thrown out of the festival. Thankfully, for the movie and the actress, Dunst deservedly was given the Best Actress prize.
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