So there we have it, 50 Cannes winners from years gone by. What are your favorite winners from the festival? Which films do you feel should have won that didn’t? Feel free to bombard us with comments below. Go enjoy the festivities.
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Nicolas Winding Refn – 2011 Prix de la mise en scène
Once upon a time I felt I had exhausted my merits of Nicolas Winding Refn, both in my written form, and that personal praise I gave him for his work on directing Drive. I will, though, never stop singing the praises of that movie. So perfectly stylish and refreshingly cool, even in its very dark and violent moments. You can see the director’s blueprint all over the movie, via the edgy, yet very different, performances from main actors (Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks in particular), to the shifts in movement and pace.
I mean, at times it almost lingers so much it comes to a complete halt, but is not for one second tedious or uninteresting. Even the electronic music Refn uses sits right beside the chugging tone of the film’s narrative, and could have been so out of place in anyone else’s grip – but is a perfect companion to it. However, then came the disappointing reception of Only God Forgives – I say disappointing when I perhaps means outrage. Refn’s style is there for all to see, but his impact and motives had vanished. By the time the superior, but hugely flawed, Neon Demon came about, his fan-base was already diminishing and he may well be scrambling from the mud.
John Turturro – 1991 Prix d’interprétation masculine
Even today, Barton Fink is so good, like any of the Coen Brothers’ movies, I still shake my head when many awards groups stayed clear. Cannes, however, have a wonderful habit of embracing the movies of Joel and Ethan – and indeed those film-makers sinfully ignored elsewhere.
Once a regular feature in their movies, John Turturro might not have been this magnetic in any of his movies prior, or since. The troubled Barton Fink, the character, was the perfect foil for the somewhat dumbstruck-looking actor (I mean that in the best possible sense) in a movie so odd, but ultimately so original. The movie was also rewarded with Best Director prize for the Coens, as well as the illustrious Palme d’Or – a unique trio of accolades not since repeated.
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The Pianist – 2002 Palme d’Or
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. 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. Even though Polanski won Best Director, AMPAS still criminally felt that Chicago was the better film. Palme d’Or trumps Oscar yet again.
Divines – 2016 Caméra d’Or
A significant shout-out to a new, breakthrough film-maker will vie for the Caméra d’Or (or the Golden Camera) at the Cannes Film Festival, and in 2016 that honor went to Divines, directed by Houda Benyamina. Part of the Directors’ Fortnight group, Divines tells the gritty, refreshing, engaging story of Parisian slumdogs, or two teenagers in particular living in poverty, turning to running errands and eventual drug liaisons for the local dealer. Benyamina executes a deft social tone, themes we’ve experienced before, but given a fresh flavor and real compelling vigor.
Headed by an outstanding lead performance by Oulaya Amamra (the director’s little sister) as Dounia, Divines is bold in its depiction of youngsters in their journey through education, street-life, family feuds, potential romance, and that longing and ambition to escape the shackles and explore adulthood with a free mind. The stark contrasts between the rough-around-the-edges lifestyle and deep emotional seed is portrayed with unflinching brilliance, again shone brightly through Amamra’s commanding turn.
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Alejandro González Iñárritu – 2006 Prix de la mise en scène
Now a two-time, back-to-back, Oscar winner for Best Director for Birdman and then The Revenant. But not the exceptional 21 Grams. Or Babel. or Amores perros. That’s a bunch of discussions for another time altogether. Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s win at Cannes in 2006 was another notch on the bedpost of Mexican film-makers that year, with fellow nationals Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) also at the chair of terrific movies. Brave, incomparable movies.
Babel was a multi-character piece, over several main story strands (as was 21 Grams, though the narrative time-shifts were a world apart). Iñárritu sets a formidably different tone in each of the stories, though we’re never allowed to assume this is not one complete movie. He gets intense and emotive performances from his large cast (ensembles won the acting prizes in Cannes this year), and manages to surprise us with both the faces we know, and those new ones we do not – Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza rightly got the most attention, and were eventually nominated for Oscars. Compellingly sluggish and rather gloomy, Babel still hits hard somehow.
Fish Tank – 2009 Prix du Jury
English filmmaker Andrea Arnold has taken three films to Cannes, Red Road, Fish Tank, and American Honey, and all three were the recipient of the Prix du Jury – making her the biggest bridesmaid in recent festival history. Though to win three consecutive prizes is a mean fete indeed. In my view, it is Fish Tank that is the finest of her works, and there’s nothing wrong with sitting just behind Das weiße Band and Un prophète in the prize pecking order in 2009.
The breakthrough performance from Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank offers such a gritty, realistic social landscape. So inhabited in the role of a troubled teenage girl with such tenacity, she chews up every scene. Hard-hitting, fuck-the-world teenagers generally have a sour reputation in our lives as menaces to society, and although Mia may fall into that misunderstood pocket, Jarvis and Arnold turn the perception inside out. Mia rejects the outside world to a large extent, almost lamenting the very social group she is part of, all the while dancing privately, demonstrating an emotive sense of longing.
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Kis Uykusu – 2014 Palme d’Or
Visionary, cinematic story-teller Nuri Bilge Ceylan has been frequenting Cannes for some years now (his vast introduction in the press conference in 2014 is beyond impressive). So although not many called it, the enduring, powerful, honest, Palme d’Or winner Kis Uykusu (Winter Sleep) was a choice that made sense. What perhaps surprised many was that this certainly is a long, drawn out affair – but so are many of the previous winners.
What keeps your attention much of the time is the extraordinarily real dialogue, reminding us of how we talk in real life. And a majority of the conversations here are bleak, about brutally honest, often buried, feelings. The kind that is usually kept behind closed doors, but here we get to feel every word, and the emotion that comes with it. The great Gökhan Tiryaki’s breath-taking cinematography is an awe-inspiring experience all on it’s own, making the three hour running time flow by with ease.
François Truffaut – 1959 Prix de la mise en scène
At the 1958 Cannes Film Festival the then universally unknown French film-maker François Truffaut was nowhere to be seen. The truth is, he was not allowed to attend that year as a result of him verbally lashing out at the competition as an institution. I won’t say he had the last laugh, as it didn’t really end there, but the very next year his debut feature film Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows) won over audiences at Cannes – as well as rewarding Truffaut with the Best Director prize.
Film politics are fickle, always have been, but what a victory for cinema that was. French cinema catapulted as a result, Truffaut’s immediate success (and story credit) paved the way for native big mouth Jean-Luc Godard’s very first film, À bout de souffle (Breathless) – I don’t believe many people reading this were not at all aware that the French New Wave had arrived in 1959.
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Fatih Akın – 2007 Prix du scénario
A truly grounded, seductively powerful drama, the Turkish-German production The Edge of Heaven (English / Auf der anderen Seite (German) / Yaşamın Kıyısında (Turkish) was a well-chosen winner of the Prix du scénario (Screenplay prize) at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Written and directed by the naturally gifted Fatih Akın, this is a movie so well crafted scene-for-scene, it is sheer bliss to watch and absorb, even in its dark, sullen moments – to which it has ample.
Going the long way around, super-effectively so, the narrative is casually segmented into chapter’s labelled based on character demises, though this is hardly just about dying at all. The artistically refined characters we track center around a lonely old man, a desperate “woman of the night”, a reflective, troubled son, a rebellious, estranged daughter, a good-hearted student. There are amidst the drama, too, memorable contemplative moments, as well as an immaculately composed pacing.
Isabelle Adjani – 1981 Prix d’interprétation féminine
Awarded the Best Actress prize for both roles in competition at Cannes 1981, while Isabelle Adjani‘s turn in Quartet is all fine and dandy, it is the ridiculously ravenous performance in Andrzej Żuławski’s psychological mind-fuck Possession that bursts pretty much every acting muscle in the body. As Anna, a woman wanting a divorce, Adjani manages to transcend through spectacular melodrama, alarming sexual deviance, some truly disturbing behavior, impulsive self-harm, all compellingly contributing to one of cinema’s most memorable nervous breakdowns.
The enduring, unfathomable subway seizure is a bonkers, brilliant piece of acting all on its own. In a dual role, Adjani also plays Helen, the teacher, in an altogether more composed role, only emphasizing the magnitude of the French actress’ range. The French actress is chilling in her composure, and thrilling in her eruptions. One of my very favorite acting displays of any year without question.
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