Over a week in, and we’ve seen almost all that the 2014 Cannes Film Festival has had to offer in the Official Competition—only Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan,” which just screened right about now, and Olivier Assayas’ “The Clouds Of Sils Maria” have still to unspool, and you’ll have read our verdicts on everything (and if not, you can catch up on our coverage here). Jane Campion’s jury have probably already started to deliberate, and Cannes gossip is already focused on who’s going to win. The Dardennes? (Again) The Leigh? The Miller? The Ceylan? The Kawase? The Dolan?
As we saw last week, the history of the Palme d’Or has seen all kinds of classics take the prize home, but that’s not to say it’s an automatic stamp of quality. Juries with even more storied members than this one have sometimes come up with a winner that, either at the time or decades on, proves a bit of a headscratcher. And it's also important to remember the the juries are very subjective, with the ego, personalities and tastes of eight randomly assembled people trying to find some common ground, all with the buzz of Cannes swarming around their head. It's not an enviable task, and much different than Oscar campaigns, which finds the entire industry spending million and dollars and months trying to create a consensus.
So, with 48 hours to go until we learn the winner of this year’s Palme, we’ve rounded up, entirely subjectively, ten of the more questionable decisions in the history of the festival. You can check out our picks below, shout at us about them in the comments section, and stay tuned until Saturday to see if Campion and co pick a winner that belongs in this list, or in last week’s.
What Won: "Friendly Persuasion" by William Wyler, a story of a Quaker family whose religious values come into direct conflict with the ongoing Civil War.
What Should Have Won: It's not hard to find a replacement for this one, especially because we have Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal," Federico Fellini's "Nights Of Cabiria" and Robert Bresson's "A Man Escaped" to choose from. Need we go on? Alright then,
Why: Because William Wyler is remembered for a lot of movies, and "Friendly Persuasion" isn't one of them. Like most of the films on our list here, this pleasant slice of home grown American pie can't exactly be called bad (Palme d'Or winners are rarely, if ever, that) but that doesn't stop it from being one of the biggest misfires from the Cannes canon. A story soaked in pacifism, Christian values, and off-screen political symbolism (Reagan gifted the film to Gorbachev in the '80s as a way to say "let's be more like these Quakers"), the performances from Gary Cooper and, especially, a raw pre-Norman Bates Anthony Perkins are the biggest mainstays from this outdated picture. If we were talking about Wyler's "Best Years Of Our Lives" perhaps we'd be singing a different tune here, but even that can't really hold a cinematic candle to Bergman, Bresson, or Fellini's films competing in the same year. What on Earth happened to this jury and who managed to spike their drinks? All three of our picks are bonafide classics of cinema, with "The Seventh Seal" especially considered as one of the most defining films of its decade (hell, perhaps even the century). Oh, and guess what? We haven't even mentioned Andrzej Wajda's "Kanal" — another war-film, except, much better — which was also competing. Whatever the deciding factor to award one of Wyler's most forgettable films was, everything points to an appreciation of an art that has a tangy smell of politics, and not the refreshing liveliness of cinema in its purest form.
What Won: “Eternity And A Day,” from slow-cinema pioneer Theo Angelopolous, which focuses on a dying poet, played by Bruno Ganz.
What Should Have Won: Possibly controversial, but in a strong year, we’d have given the Palme to Thomas Vinterberg’s searing Dogme family drama “Festen.” There were other strong choices too, though: Tsai Ming-Liang’s “The Hole,” Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s “Flowers Of Shanghai,” Ken Loach’s “My Name Is Joe,” John Boorman’s “The General,” Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine,” Lodge Kerrigan’s “Claire Dolan” or even Terry Gilliam’s flawed-but-fascinating “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.” Still, at least it didn’t go to Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful,” we suppose...
Why? With Martin Scorsese heading up the jury, you were bound to get an interesting choice, and Scorsese’s gang definitely picked the cinephile’s option: Angelopolous is slow and steady stuff in general, but many wags at the time commented that “Eternity And A Day” was an appropriate title. It’s not the pacing that bothers us so much, however, as the film’s soppiness: there’s nothing particularly eye-opening about Angelopolous’ take on mortality, and one has to resist rolling your eyes when Ganz bonds with a cute kid, which takes up a fair old chunk of the running time. In a year that saw a certain amount of formal inventiveness from directors both young and old, and bold visions from the likes of Tsai, Hou and Haynes, there were certainly more daring picks to be made, even if we’re glad that Angelopolous picked up the prize at some point in his career (he died tragically in 2012 after being hit by a motorbike while shooting a film).
What Won: Nanni Moretti's “The Son's Room” a story centred around a premature death of a beloved family member, and how the grieving father, mother, and sister handle the shock.
What Should Have Won: The chock-full competition was sizzling with masterpieces, most notably; David Lynch's “Mulholland Drive”, Michael Haneke's “The Piano Teacher”, and Oscar-winner “No Man's Land” from Danis Tanovic. They're all bigger winners in our books.
Why: While we realize that criticizing Moretti's film is like walking on eggshells with little fuzzy baby chicks trapped beneath, we're going to do it anyway. Kind of. “The Son's Room” is far from being a bad film, but its use of a true and tried emotional trope – only the blackest of souls isn't compelled to tears by the death of someone's child – feels more manipulative and less organic on repeat viewing. Moretti bets all of his chips on this one major event, and while the scenes of grief and inability to let go are assuredly effective on first viewing, they feel a bit like a broken record in hindsight. And what's more, it's a broken record of a Brian Eno song that's, dare we say, cheesy? When you pit it against a Lynchian Hollywood nightmare that's impossible to forget, Haneke's psycho-sexual adventures of a deeply troubled piano teacher, or Tanovic's entertaining tragedy of war, Moretti's soapy drama wilts away. We're guessing the jury wasn't feeling particularly moody and went with the safe choice that plucked their heart strings the softest, but looking back on it now, it boggles our minds to know this won over the other much stronger contenders.
What Won: “The Class,” Laurent Cantet’s moving story of a French teacher in an inner-city school in Paris. The film was the first French movie to win the Palme in 21 years (1987’s “Under The Sun Of Satan” was the last before it).
What Should Have Won: Again, you would be spoiled for choice. Even excluding high-profile misfires like “Blindness” and “Changeling,” you had Jia Zhangke’s “24 City,” Steven Soderbergh’s two-part “Che,” Arnaud Desplechin’s “A Christmas Tale,” Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo,” Lucrecia Martel’s “The Headless Woman,” Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah,” the Dardennes’ “Lorna’s Silence,” Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche New York,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Three Monkeys,” James Gray’s “Two Lovers” and Ari Folman’s “Waltz With Bashir.”
Why? Again, don’t get us wrong: “The Class” is a very fine film, one that deservedly became an international hit. But it’s still a dressed-up, somewhat conventional take on the inspirational-teacher picture, that’s hardly doing anything hugely exciting with the medium. In a year without the fierce competition of one of the most varied and exciting Cannes line-ups in memory, it might have been a fine winner. But again, this is one that just feels like the dullest choice that Sean Penn’s jury could have made, whether put against more classical, restrained fare like “A Christmas Tale,” “Two Lovers” or “Gomorrah,” or formally bolder pictures like “Synecdoche New York” or “Waltz With Bashir.” Well, except for “Changeling,” obviously.
ontd what are your FAVORITE palme d'or winners?