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: Shared between Claude Lelouche’s French New Waver “A Man And A Woman,” about the romance between a widow and a widower, and Pietro Germi’s “Signore & Signore,” a three-part sex comedy released under the English title of “The Birds, The Bees & The Italians.”
What Should Have Won: A strong line-up in competition this year, with David Lean’s megahit “Doctor Zhivago” probably the headliner, along with Orson Welles’ “Chimes At Midnight,” Karel Reisz’s “Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment,” Jacques Rivette’s “The Nun,” John Frankenheimer’s “Seconds” and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Hawks And The Sparrow” all selected as well. Frankly, we’d take any of them over the shared winners of the top prize (still called the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film at this point).
Why: Call it a blind spot, but we struggle a bit with Italian comedy of this era, and ‘The Birds...’ is no exception — Germi is a very fine comedy director, and it’s fitfully funny, but feels somewhat ropey nearly a half-century on. Meanwhile, taking on “A Man And A Woman” feels like more of a sacred cow: the film also won Foreign Language and Screenplay Oscars, and was a global hit that inspired a sequel 20 years later. But if you ask us, it’s deeply bland, a sort of Gallic version of “Love Story” that looks very pretty, and is well-acted by Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, but is otherwise cinematically disposable. And the idea that either are better than Welles’ Shakesperean masterpiece, Frankenheimer’s paranoia classic, or even Lean’s romantic epic (which is far from the director’s best) feels patently absurd.
What Won: A split for the Palme, with Costa-Gavras’ thriller “Missing,” in which the father and wife of a journalist attempt to find him after he disappears during the U.S backed coup by General Pinochet in Chile, sharing honors with Yilmaz Guney’s Turkish prisoner drama “Yol.”
What Should Have Won: Not a year for the ages, necessarily, but with one stone-cold classic in the line-up in the shape of Werner Herzog’s astonishing “Fitzcarraldo.”
Why? As is often the case when the Palme goes to an eyebrow-raising film, 1982 appeared to be a year where politics trumped art when it came to picking the winner, not least with figures like Jean-Jacques Annaud and Gabriel Garcia Marquez serving on the jury of legendary Italian theater director Giorgio Strehler. “Missing” is an absolutely solid film with a terrific performance from Jack Lemmon at its center, but it’s also a poor cousin to Costa-Gavras’ earlier “Z,” with a rather crudely drawn arc for Lemmon’s character. Meanwhile, “Yol” is a case where the better story was off-screen rather than on: director Guney had spent most of his years in prison since 1972 (partly as a political prisoner, partly for shooting a judge in a drunken row), with his assistant Serif Goren directing scripts that Guney wrote from jail. “Yol” was such a film, but the helmer actually managed to escape from prison and finish the editing personally from Switzerland. There’s powerful stuff in “Yol,” and if nothing else it causes an interesting wrinkle in the auteur theory, but in general it’s rather crude and, frankly, dull filmmaking that indicates that the film got the top prize as a gesture rather than anything else. Especially against “Fitzcarraldo,” Herzog’s masterpiece of hubris and madness that might still be the director’s finest achievement.