The Cannes Film Festival coming in at second place? Excusez moi? No, not really; Cannes’ only instance of secondary status is in its age, with its 1946 beginnings nodding to the senior Venice Film Festival of 1932. Other than that sole exception, Cannes continues to maintain its reputation as the most storied, most prestigious, most celebrated film fest in all the world. And this year’s 65th occasion, occurring May 16 through May 27, promises to be as starry as ever. A few of last year’s headliners will be back (Brad Pitt, Sean Penn), as well as Cannes-alum Nicole Kidman and fandom favorites Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.
While there may be the occasional flurry of back-to-back premieres in Hollywood, nothing rivals the 12 days of international star power sweeping up and down the iconic red-carpeted steps at the Palais des Festival. In the preface to the book Observations by international Cannes photographer Stéphane Kossman, Peter Knapp writes: “The climb up the steps of the Palais des Festivals at the Cannes Film Festival is a difficult moment for any actor. During the three minutes it takes to climb the red carpet, the actor is under the eyes of more than 150 professional photographers snapping over 2000 shots.”
However, we can’t talk about it until we know how to pronounce it. Or, as My Fair Lady‘s Professor Henry Higgins once said, “The French never care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce in properly.” Dispelling all lingering doubts, here’s the deal: the 8-square mile town, perched ever so seductively on the southeastern French coast, is pronounced CAN, as in “trash can,” and “Can you believe that I’m going for a second year in a row?” (Forgive the enthusiastic outburst from this film reviewer but any critic whose temperature doesn’t rise ever so slightly at the thought of experiencing world-class cinema debuting in this glorious setting might want to seriously reconsider his/her career.)
Last year I had the rare opportunity to witness the Lars von Trier “I think I’m a Nazi” meltdown at the press conference following the debut of his Melancholia. Lifted directly from his speech about Hitler: “He’s not what you would call a good guy but I understand much about him and I sympathize with him a little bit.” Mr. von Trier was subsequently ousted from the festival.
So disastrous was the event that it may have slipped Cannes’ collective memory that this was, in effect, nothing less than the auteur’s stunning encore. In 1991, after placing third rather than winning the top honor (the Palme d’Or) for his film Europa, von Trier took the opportunity provided during his acceptance speech to call that year’s jury chairman, Roman Polanski, a “midget” … and subsequently threw the award on the ground.
And yet, many other Cannes scandals (S’cannes-dals?) have had their day in the French sun. Such as in 1954, when Simone Silva, aka “Miss Festival,” suddenly dropped her top in front of then mega-film star Robert Mitchum. Ever the gallant gentleman, he used his own two hands to cover up her breasts. Oddly enough, it must have slipped Mitchum’s mind, right along with Ms. Silva’s bra, that the Cannes beach allows topless sun worshippers. The photographers were so eager to record the event that one man broke his arm … and another broke his leg.
Maybe Ms. Silva had been trying to top the photo opp from the year before, when Brigitte Bardot created an international stir by appearing in the heretofore little known style of swimsuit called the “bikini.”
But the picture that burns the eyes, far more than excessive 3D viewing in the dark, is the 2006 vision of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, his hirsute body only slightly covered by a lime green sling, aka a “mankini.” Take that, Ms. Silva.
Baring the body out of doors comes in as a paltry second to some of the lewder scenes inside the cinema itself. Such as the final scene in Vincent Gallo’s 2003 The Brown Bunny, in which the explicit sex incited audience outrage, followed by a massive exit. Roger Ebert called it, “The worst film ever shown in the history of Cannes.” Reacting, writer/director/star Gallo called Ebert “a fat pig.” Which elicited Ebert’s final volley: “One day I will be thin; Mr. Gallo will still be the director of The Brown Bunny.”
Which brings us up to the present and Cannes’ 2012 Official Poster that, in recent years, has displayed a photo of an iconic actress beaming down from gigantic billboards and flags throughout the city. This year the representative face belongs to none other than Marilyn Monroe. And yet … Monroe never went to Cannes herself.
Scandalous? Not quite. But certainly intriguing. Simultaneously reflecting sublime glamour and a little bit of fiction, the poster signals a perfect opening salute to Cannes #65.
Cannes … not … wait!