Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Day 11: The Palme D'Or Awards

by Cari Beauchamp

Back in the '70s, Mary Corliss called the Palme D'Or awards ceremony "SCTV produces the Oscars." And, every year since, we think they'll improve. They haven't.

The sun is still beating down at 6:30 and black tie and formal gowns are de rigeur. There's the mayor of Beverly Hills... Roger Ebert in a rhinestone vest... diplomats and sweet young things. Red carpets are on the beach. Decolte rules. What Joan Rivers as the fashion police could do with this crowd.

At the slightly smaller theater in the Palais, the rest of us pile in and watch the parade projected on the big screen. We have our eyes peeled for who's been "invited" to attend because, unlike the Oscars, the winners are notified in advance. Not exactly told that they've won, but if the phone doesn't ring, you know you have not. If you are called, you are informed that it "might be rewarding" to attend. It's a strong clue you've won something.

Not always, of course. There was the year that the entire "Leolo" crowd from Canada attended en masse and left emptyhanded. And when Spike Lee had "Jungle Fever" in competition and was told to attend, only to be there to accept the special award given to Samuel Jackson in a supporting role.

So we watch the screen for clues -- there's the crowd from the Egyptian film; Arthur Hiller, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences; and Adnan Khashoggi (I guess the prison bracelet is off). Roman Polanski's wife sans Polanski, Catherine Deneuve, Gary Oldman and Luc Besson, Sean Penn, Robin Wright, John Travolta and Nick Cassevetes -- the entire crowd from "She's So Lovely." Sean is smoking Gauloise and looking excrutiatingly uncomfortable in bow tie and tux.

After 45 minutes, the camera moves inside to an empty stage and a set that looks half-done, with a waterbed as the floor. Woody Allen wishes "Happy Anniversary" via videotape and, when the camera returns to the set, a backdrop of old Cannes explains that what looked like a waterbed was supposed to be the sea.

Jeanne Moreau was once again the mistress of ceremonies without a teleprompter and apparently no rehearsals. She introduced the jury, starting with President Isabel Adjani, having a bad hair day; Gong Li, looking gorgeous in a traditional Chinese gown; Mira Sorvino, in a '50s formal dress that would've made Kim Novak proud. And then came the auteurs... Mike Leigh and Tim Burton, looking like an absent-minded professor with thick glasses and black-and-white striped socks clearly visible. For a moment, my heart went out to all of the jury for sitting through the least inspiring selection of films I've seen in competition in twenty years.

The greatest fears that Johnny Depp or Gary Oldman might be rewarded as first-time directors because of the star power were assuaged. The Camera D'Or for directorial debut were the first prizes to be announced (honorable mention to "La Vie De Jesus" and first prize to Naomi Kawase for "Suzuka").

As each award category was announced, Jeanne Moreau introduced a star who was to present the award and then called on the president of the jury to "tell us de vinner." It went from "Madame President" to "Mademoiselle Adjani" and then "Isabel!" from then on.

This year, there was no wave of boos to greet any of the announcements, but no bravos either. When James Schamus won for his "Ice Storm" screenplay and Ang Lee accepted the award for him, it was difficult to tell if the applause was for the writer or the director. But it didn't matter, everyone seemed pleased.

The best actress -- Kathy Burke of "Nil By Mouth" -- was really a supporting role and a bit of a surprise, but no one could argue with the decision because there were no starring female roles to rival it. And when Sean Penn was announced as the best actor for "She's So Lovely," it was greeted with a sigh of relief. His performance was a revelation in a film that lacked motivation and plot continuity. Best Director went to Wong Kar-Wai for "Happy Together."

In choosing the awards, one can only imagine the agony of the jury in trying to take into consideration countries, ideologies, creative freedom and good filmmaking. As Lola Montez would say, it was time to "have courage and shuffle the cards."

So the third prize, or the Prix de Jury, went to a French film, "Western." The second prize, called the Grand Prix because they hate calling it "second place," was given to "The Sweet Hereafter" by Canadian Atom Egoyan.

When Isabel Adjani announced two Palme D'Ors would be awarded, there was a gasp and then a sigh. But soon the reason was clear. It was shared by "The Eel" from Japan (a classic art-house film about a man who kills his wife and finds redemption) and "Ta'm E Guilass," the film that was barred from competition by the Iranian government until last week. I don't know if "The Eel" has an American distributor yet but the Iranian film definitely does not.

In a way, the prizes were not a surprise. There were no strong favorites, there was no "sweep me off my feet" work of art. No "Secrets and Lies," no "Farewell My Concubine," no "Apocalypse Now." Each time I sat down in that glorious theater and the lights went down, either at the 8:30 a.m. press screening in my jeans or all dolled up to climb those red-carpeted stairs in the evening, I am ready to suspend belief and be taken somewhere I've never been before. This year I was at times assaulted, at times amused, and at times entertained, but never enchanted.

Ironically, perhaps, this leaves me looking forward to the 51st Cannes Film Festival without the hype of the anniversary and without the need to somehow be bigger and better than before. Maybe then the emphasis will return to the films.

Previous Installment

Back to Cannes Film Festival Diaries

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.