From anecdote to legend

Glitz, stars and gossip, diplomatic affairs and scandals… For two weeks, all eyes turn to the Cannes Film Festival. Major happenings and trivial details can get blown out of proportion, sometimes even contributing to the legend.

The Discovery of Neorealism

The first Cannes International Film Festival opened in 1946 after an aborted attempt in 1939. There was a carefree atmosphere after the war years, and the stars of the silver screen flocked to discover the charms of the region. Among the films shown, Italian cinema made its mark with Roberto Rosselini’s Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City). The film won a Grand Prix and revealed a major new current: neorealism. Yet the director remembered how, at the film’s screening in the afternoon, “everyone’s eyes were drooping after lunch; my brother and I were practically the only ones in the auditorium”.

The Tie Affair

The lovely weather of 1949 prompted festival-goers to let their hair down between film screenings, enjoying bathing, excursions and water-skiing before quickly getting dressed again for the next film. So the committee decided to put on “Tie” and “No Tie” screenings. But straight away, the guests deemed those films chosen for the “Tie” screenings to be of a higher standard. This judgment came as an insult to foreign participants representing countries whose screenings were “No Tie”, and the complaints flooded in.

The Myth of Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte Bardot

The 1955 Cannes Film Festival saw the birth of the Palme d’Or, as well as the advent of a French star, a symbol of the liberated woman and naturalness. Brigitte Bardot had so far acted in few films and it was not until the following year that she was immortalised in Roger Vadim’s Et Dieu… créa la femme (And God Created Woman). She did not return to Cannes until 1967; a long wait due to the fact that, as Bardot put it upon her return, the Festival had launched her “at random, for want of anyone better”. The rise of Brigitte Bardot, which began at the Festival, contributed to the tremendous development of the starlet phenomenon.

A Princely Marriage

In 1954, a young American actress, Grace Kelly, came to the French Riviera with Cary Grant to film there with Alfred Hitchcock. The following year, she participated in the Cannes Film Festival representing George Seaton’s The Country Girl. Making the most of her presence on the Riviera, journalist Pierre Galante arranged for her to meet Prince Rainier of Monaco. They married on 22 April 1956, on the eve of the opening of the Cannes Film Festival. The date was chosen so that all the celebrities present at the ceremony in Monaco could then make their way to Cannes.

New Wave breaks over La Croisette

In 1958, Claude Chabrol’s film Le Beau Serge was all set to be the French nomination for the Cannes Film Festival, but was replaced at the last minute. This mistake was corrected the following year, however, as young French director François Truffaut walked away with the Award for Best Director for his Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows). From then on, in the tradition of the Cahiers du Cinéma, the French film movement known as the Nouvelle Vague, or ‘New Wave’ – a term coined by Françoise Giroud – was to make its mark on cinema for some time to come.

Photographers’ Strike

The first to trigger a strike among photographers on the steps of the Palais des Festivals was Paul Newman. In 1975, Newman was invited to the Cannes Film Festival and, after a tiring journey, he refused to pose for photographers. In the evening, at the famous ‘Climbing of the Steps’, journalists all laid their cameras at their feet as a sign of protest. Paul Newman later admitted “it was the most important lesson he’d ever learned”. Isabelle Adjani suffered the same fate during the screening of L’Été Meurtier (One Deadly Summer) in 1983.

Fun and Games!

As far back as the first Cannes Film Festival, harmony reigned among the different delegations and drinks contributed to social bonding. In this atmosphere, an official American representative, stone drunk, came close to falling from a first-floor window. A few years later, at a party in honour of the British delegation, the UK ambassador to France famously climbed up onto the buffet in his socks, to the sound of gipsy guitars, to join actress Imogen Hassel for a wild flamenco display.

Screening for Newlyweds

In 1971, Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s film Les Mariés de l'An II (The Married Couple of the Year Two) closed the Cannes Film Festival. All of the city’s young newlyweds were invited to the screening if they could prove that their marriage had indeed taken place that year. A special box was even reserved for those lucky enough to be married on the day of the screening.

Gérard Philipe: a place in the hearts of the people of Cannes

Young, talented and attractive, Gérard Philipe will always have a place in the hearts of his admirers. At the 1972 Festival, a commemorative plaque was laid in honour of the local boy, in Avenue de Petit-Juas, in front of the block of flats where the unforgettable Fanfan spent his childhood. Philipe’s three appearances at the Cannes Film Festival were also crowned with success: Award for Best Musical Score at the 1951 Festival for Marcel Carné’s Juliette ou la clef des songes (Juliette, or Key of Dreams); Award for Best Director in 1952 for Christian-Jaque’s Fanfan la Tulipe; and the Special Jury Prize in 1954 for René Clément’s Monsieur Ripois (Knave of Hearts).

Cartoons make a comeback at Cannes

In the early years of the Cannes Film Festival, a number of cartoons were included in the official selections. Among them, Ben Sharpsteen’s Dumbo (for Walt Disney) was even awarded a Grand Prix in 1947, while another, Peter Pan by Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi and Wilfred Jackson (also for Walt Disney) drew over seven million viewers in France in 1953. In addition, provisions were made for an award for films in this category in the event’s rules. Even so, apart from this handful of examples, the genre was not represented in the selections for twenty years. It was not until 1973 that René Laloux’s La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet) was presented and acclaimed in Cannes, taking away a Special Prize. To date, the most recent selection was the animated film Shrek by Victoria Jenson and Andrew Adamson, presented in 2001.

Two films in the parallel sections worth mentioning are the highly acclaimed Triplettes de Belleville (Belleville Rendez-vous) by Sylvain Chomet in 2004, and Over the Hedge, produced by the DreamWorks Animation studios in 2006.

Political Film Week

In 1974, the Political Film Week was held alongside the Festival. A screening of Histoire d'A, a film about abortion, was planned, but it had its licence refused by the authorities. The film’s screening, at the Lido in Boulevard de la République, was interrupted by the police, who forced viewers to evacuate the auditorium. In protest, they went and sat on the steps of the Palais des Festivals. They also caused a television programme hosted by Pierre Tchernia to be interrupted. Supported by the French Society of Film Directors, protesters obtained a special screening of the film.

Scandals on the Programme

Censorship has provoked countless scandals at the Cannes Film Festival, but its abolition would result in just as many. In the 1970s, directors tackled unusual, delicate subjects. First came Marco Ferreri with La Grande Bouffe (La Grande Abbuffata in Italian, Blow-out in English), which attacked the consumer society in 1973. Two years later, Thierry Zeno’s Vase de Noce, a film which dealt with zoophilia, was presented at Critics’ Week. Despite being awarded the Jury Prize, David Cronenberg’s 1996 film Crash shocked with the violence of its images, as did Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible in 2002. Meanwhile, International Critics’ Week in 2005 did not go unnoticed thanks to the selection of Thomas Clay’s film The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael.