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5 Surprising & Controversial Cannes Film Festival Winners From Years Gone By

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com May 31, 2012 at 10:05AM

As much as people have quibbles with (much more democratically voted on) awards like the Oscars, the decisions by juries at film festivals tend to be even more contentious. Usually drawn from practitioners, actors, with a few other curious participants in there as well, jurors often come in with their own likes, dislikes and agendas, and in the absence of a unanimous choice, often end up settling for compromises.
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Controversial Surprising Cannes Winners

As much as people have quibbles with (much more democratically voted-on) awards like the Oscars, the decisions by juries at film festivals tend to be even more contentious. Usually drawn from practitioners and actors, with a few other curious participants in there as well, jurors often come in with their own likes, dislikes and agendas, and in the absence of a unanimous choice, often end up settling for compromises.

Indeed, this year's Cannes Film Festival jury president Nanni Moretti said, after the awards were unveiled this past weekend, that none of the them were unanimously voted for (word is Andrea Arnold in particular was a fervent opponent of Leos Carax's "Holy Motors"). That being said, their Palme D'Or winner was a popular one: while a few critics were rooting for "Holy Motors," almost everyone was delighted that Michael Haneke's "Amour" picked up the prize (his second in four years, making him one of only seven directors to pick up two Palme d'Ors).

But there were other choices that were more controversial, from Denis Lavant's turn in Carax's film being snubbed, to Grand Prix and Best Director awards for Matteo Garrone's "Reality" and Carlos Reygadas' "Post Tenebras Lux," which were mostly coolly received by critics. As such, we've delved into the history books to pick out five controversial and/or surprising Palme D'Or winners at the festival when the jury swerved expectations, and made selections that kept talk going long after the red carpet at the Palais was rolled up...

Chronicle Of The Burning Years
1975: "Chronicle Of The Burning Years"
We can't quite speak to the quality of "Chronicle of the Burning Years" (or "Chronique des Annees de Braise"), the Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina film that the jury, headed by Jeanne Moreau (that also included "Clockwork Orange" author Anthony Burgess and "Butch Cassidy" director George Roy-Hill), picked as their Palme d'Or winner in 1975. That's not a slight on the film, it's just that despite its victory, the three-hour epic about the Algerian Revolution barely got distribution outside France at the time. It's not like Moreau & co were lacking in other options, either: Herzog's "The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser," Costa-Gavras' "Special Section," Bob Fosse's "Lenny," Martin Scorsese's "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and, perhaps most importantly, Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Passenger," were all in contention. Perhaps Antonioni was overlooked because he already had one in the bag, or maybe because star Jack Nicholson had won Best Actor the previous year for "The Last Detail." "Chronicle of the Burning Years" was, after all, apparently well-received at the time. But it doesn't exactly seem to have taken its place in cinema history.

Pulp Fiction
1994: "Pulp Fiction"
"Pulp Fiction" is one film that certainly has taken its place in cinema history, having been endlessly ripped off by American independent cinema and elsewhere in the nearly two decades since it premiered. But at the time, Tarantino took to the stage to a chorus of boos. It had been a strong year, with new films from Mike Figgis, Edward Yang, Nanni Moretti, Zhang Yimou, the Coen Brothers, Guiseppe Tornatore, Abbas Kiarostami and Alan Rudolph. Patrice Chereau's "La Reine Margot," Atom Egoyan's "Exotica" and Nikita Mikhalkov's "Burnt By The Sun" (which would go on to win the Foreign-Language Oscar) all received particularly enthusiastic responses, but it was widely expected that the winner would be "Three Colors: Red," the final film of Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy, and according to the director, likely the last picture he would helm. It was very much a movie on home soil, examining as the trilogy did the ideals of the French revolution. Furthermore, the Polish helmer had never won the Palme (although he got the Grand Jury Prize in 1988 for his earlier opus "The Decalogue"). But the jury was headed by Clint Eastwood (with Catherine Deneuve and Kazuo Ishiguro among those joining him), and his affinity for American crime pictures must have won through. Furthermore, The Guardian reported at the time that only two jury members had seen either of the earlier "Three Colors" films, and that producer Marin Karmitz had offended some of them. That didn't curb the boos on the night, and it's still hard to argue that "Pulp Fiction" is a superior picture.

This article is related to: Features, Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach, Julian Schnabel, Cristian Mungiu, Quentin Tarantino, Abbas Kiarostami


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