Monday, May 24, 2010

Palme Closet Case.

It's normal to hear film snobs utter complete disdain for the Academy Awards and gloat about how the latest Palm d'Or winner is the greatest thing since bread came sliced.
But with the recent edition of the Cannes film festival, and its winners, I wondered just how different these two awards truly are.
Sure, the cinema awarded in Cannes is usually more avant garde, innovative even, compared to the array of biopics, family dramas and bloated epics Oscar favors, but the principle behind how these awards are selected might not be as far from Hollywood as the Croisette likes to think.

Each year when we hear both the Oscar nominations and Cannes festival lineup, we realize that it's the same names being called over and over.
Oscar is infatuated with Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. Cannes favors Ken Loach, Wong Kar Wai, Pedro Almodóvar, Emir Kusturica and yes Clint Eastwood.
This year alone Loach's new film was extraordinarily included in the official selection a mere days before the festival began.

This begs us to wonder who exactly is choosing these movies. Supposedly submitting a film into the festival is an equal opportunity for everyone (if not why to suggest it with an easy to access link in the official site?) but how will the latest film from John Doe in Mexico fare against the latest work from festival darling Andrea Arnold (Cannes' Stephen Daldry perhaps with all her films winning something)?
Sure, it can be said that Carlos Reygadas' career, for example, was built entire upon festival submissions but once he became an established member of the auteur class, is his "newbie" spot available for someone to take?

To examine this further, let's take a look at the last five Palm d'Or winners.

2010-Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
2009-The White Ribbon
2008-The Class
2007-4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
2006-The Wind That Shakes the Barkey

Out of these five, three could very well be compared to Oscar rewarding A Beautiful Mind, Million Dollar Baby and The Departed during the last decade.
As in how two of these were the eventual coronation of someone who had this award coming all along and one was the first big win for someone who was denied the top prize out of random reasons.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Palm d'Or triumph wasn't in the least surprising, not only because the reviews were quite good but also because since his first entry with Blissfully Yours in 2002, the young director has been escalating towards the big award.
He had movies in the official competition in 02, 04 and was a jury member in 2008. His presence in the festival is the equivalent of Tom Hanks' position within AMPAS (although it's obvious who has more artistic merits in world cinema).

When Michael Haneke finally won the Palm d'Or in 2009, it could be said that he had finally hit all the right buttons for the festival stars to align in his favor.
His first festival entry was in 1997 with the controversial Funny Games, after which came Code Unknown in 2000 (Ecumenical Prize of the jury), La Pianiste in 2001 (Grand Prize and acting awards), Caché in 2005 (Best Director award) all finally culminating with the big win four years later.
Don't get me wrong, I love Haneke (I named The White Ribbon best film of 09 as well) but the point I'm trying to make is that it might not be that necessary to nominate or award him for everything he does.

Same happened to Ken Loach who won the Palm in 2006 after having a dozen films in competition from 1981 to 2010. Can he then be the Scorsese of the Croisette?

Sure, 2008 and 2007 would prove my theories wrong, considering how both were practically surprise winners coming from literal unknowns, but you need not but take a look at those individual year's lineups to see that they were comprised of the same people.
2007 alone had films by previous winners Fatih Akin, Quentin Tarantino, Gus van Sant, Emir Kusturica and Carlos Reygadas.

Of course this also invites us to explore the relationship that exists within both events which are arguably considered the most important film awards in the world. In 2007 for example, No Country for Old Men by Cannes' darlings Joel and Ethan Coen left the festival without a single award but only because people knew it didn't need an extra hand to earn a load of awards later (same with Mike Leigh this year?).

And this is concentrating merely in the top prizes (matters like box office and distribution would require a piece of their own). This year alone we saw films by previous Best Director winner Alejandro González Iñarritu (2006 for Babel) and Palm d'Or winner Abbas Kiarostami, receive acting awards.
Is Cannes showing signs of nepotism?

When you take into consideration the fact that jury members change every year and festival history might not have a lot to do with how they decide to vote each year, everything I said might prove to be a moot point.
But can there be that much coincidence?

I would agree too that watching the new Audiard go head to head with the new Almodóvar might be much more appealing than yet another Clint vs. Marty showdown, but isn't traditionalism, whether avant garde or commercial, quite boring in essence?

Is Cannes just Oscar with a classier outfit?


Luke said...

I love that the utterly European and avant garde Palme d'Or (insert monocle adjustment here) is just as conformist as the big show. Okay, maybe they give more of a voice to a diverse group of auteurs, but I had no idea there was such a rich history of rewarding the ones who "have it coming." Very interesting write-up, friend.

Jose said...

Thank you Luke! I found it odd after Weerasathakul won on Sunday, Cannes practices the same sort of mafia thing AMPAS does, once you're in, you're in for good.

Felipe Fonseca said...

Totally agree.

And if I may add, as a filmmaker there are some juries whose opinions I couldn't care less.

Cannes = Oscar - Hollywood.

Jose said...

Thank you Felipe!
That equation sums it up beautifully.