From Cousteau to Audiard: French cinema through 8 Palmes d’Or

Driven by a political impetus to counter the fascist turn taken by the Venice Film Festival in the 1930s, it was a truly French cinephilia that spurred the creation of the Cannes Film Festival in 1939. Nevertheless, while they played at home and that their role in the evolutions of the 7th art is important, the French directors are not the most webbed in the history of Cannes.

During the early years of the Festival, before the creation of the Palme d’Or prize (in 1955), works produced by the French were first regularly awarded prestigious prizes. Remember The Pastoral Symphony of Jean Delannoy (Grand Prix in 1946), Cursed of René Clement (Grand Prix in 1947),Antoine and Antoinette of Jacques Becker (Grand Prix in 1947) and Wages of fear of Henri-Georges Clouzot (Grand Prix in 1953). Yet from the late 1960s to the late 2000s, only the controversial Under Satan’s Sun by Maurice Pialat (1987) won the Palme d’Or. On the other hand, France finds itself more and more often at the heart of the production and distribution of films stamped from a foreign country. And it goes without saying that Palmes does not say everything. Regarding this Prize, the last few years have seen the return of French filmmakers to the forefront. Tour of the best of the France Culture archives around the eight French filmmakers awarded a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, from 1956 to 2015.

On board his ship the Calypso, the Captain Cousteau plunges us into the mysteries of the marine world with The World of Silence, an oceanographic epic and an ode to nature co-produced with Louis Malle. Today, in the era of relatively shared ecological awareness, a few scenes from the first French webbed film may be shocking: rodeos on turtle backs, explosion of coral reefs with dynamite (to identify the different species) , massacre of sharks … Except to place this documentary in the context of the 1950s, when we still thought of nature as an abundant matrix with inexhaustible resources. Two programs to (re) discover the paths of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle.

At the Cannes Film Festival in 1959, the attention of the entire Croisette crystallized around the emerging works of the New Wave selected in official competition, in particular Hiroshima, my love by Alain Resnais, and above all The 400 Shots by François Truffaut, manifesto of the avant-garde movement. Finally, Resnais’ feature film was withdrawn from the competition and Truffaut’s only received the Best Director’s Award: Marcel Camus that the Palme d’Or comes back. Unanimously by the jury despite many controversies, the almost unknown director is crowned for his second film, Orfeu negro, tale of Orpheus and Eurydice made in Rio de Janeiro. In March 2019, Euzhan Palcy, the first director to be awarded a César, confided in France Culture and spoke of the importance that Camus’ film had in her career:

When I discovered “Orfeu negro”, it was extraordinary for me. It was the first time that I saw blacks on this screen, blacks with their dignity, their qualities, their faults, a real love story, blacks kissing, hugging, like everything the world what! Euzhan Palcy

Jacques Demy invented a new form of musical cinema, unparalleled within the New Wave, in which the power of colors is mixed with a certain gravity. Umbrellas of Cherbourg tell the story of a couple separated by war, heartbreaking farewells on the platform of a station, and even sadder reunions, all … in song! This is indeed what makes the originality and even the uniqueness of the work webbed in 1964: this film is not a musical, but an “en-sang” film, in Demy’s words. In the heritage of French cinema, there is certainly a lot of song, but it is always mixed with dialogue. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, of which all the dialogues are sung, thus constitute an absolute novelty. Explore the philosophy of this incredible tragedy through Adèle Van Reeth’s program.

A young scriptwriter, a racing driver, both widowers, a tumultuous, passionate, millennial love story. With A man and a woman, Claude lelouch saw the red carpet of world cinema unfold in front of him for the first time: a Palme d’Or rewarded this film in 1966, but also two Oscars which were awarded to him the following year by his parents’ idols, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. “If we are not dead, nor angry, in twenty years we will have to do more “ Lelouch joked on the Croisette in 1966. It’s done, and doubly so. In 1986, Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant resumed their roles of Anne Gauthier and Jean-Louis Duros in A man and a woman: twenty years already. Then, fifty-two years after the Palme, rebel in The best years of a life. In 2011, Claude Lelouch put himself “A bare voice” in a series of five interviews with Alain Kruger.

Gérard Depardieu as an abbot plagued by doubt, Sandrine Bonnaire as a young woman murderer of her lover. Adapted from the eponymous novel by Georges bernanos (1926), Under Satan’s Sun is one of those films that marked the history of Cannes. In 1987, when the jury unanimously awarded him the Palme, Maurice Pialat is greeted with boos when he takes the stage to receive his award. Irreverent in the face of this cabal, he launches this reply, which has become a cult: “I will not fail in my reputation, I am especially happy this evening for all the cries and the whistles which you send to me. And if you don’t like me, I can tell you that I don’t like you either!“Two days before this stormy closing ceremony, Maurice Pialat spoke with Serge Daney for” Microfilms “. A few months later, he returned to the France Culture antenna on the occasion of the theatrical release. Under Satan’s Sun.

To listen

51 min

Maurice Pialat on “Sous le soleil de Satan” in Microfilms, program broadcast on 09/06/1987

After more than twenty years without a French director being awarded a Palme d’Or, Laurent Cantet shines on the Croisette with Between the walls. This work, awarded unanimously by the jury, is an immersion in the class of François, a young French teacher who teaches 4th year students in a so-called “difficult” college. Francois is in fact Francois Begaudeau, the author of the novel Between the walls (Gallimard, 2007) which inspired Cantet’s screenplay, and who played his own role in it. His lively and fair tone won him the very first France Culture – Télérama prize in 2006. In Human ressources (1999) and The timetable (2001), Laurent Cantet was already tackling the theme of work. In 2008, while Michel Ciment received him in “Private Projection” on the occasion of the release ofBetween the walls, the director explained why, according to him, treating the theme of work in the cinema amounts to treating what defines us.

Sensual chronicle of a burning love between two young women, The Life of Adele by Abdellatif Kechiche also suffered his share of controversy when he was webbed in 2013. Adapted from the comic book by Julie maroh, Blue is a warm colour (Glénat, 2010), the film attracted a lot of attention, especially with regard to its shooting conditions. Following the overwhelming testimonies of technicians and the two main actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, the Union of professionals in the audiovisual and film industry denounced in a press release in May 2013 the numerous breaches of the Labor Code that had taken place. during the five months of filming. Despite this controversy, the film met with great success, both critically and publicly. Abdellatif Kechiche told us about it in “Private projection” in October 2013.

To escape the civil war that is hitting Sri Lanka, a former soldier, a young woman and a little girl who do not know each other pretend to be a family in order to emigrate to France. Dheepan tells the story of these three Tamil migrants in search of integration once installed in a guardian’s lodge, in the heart of a popular city in the Parisian suburbs undermined by drug trafficking. After the Best Screenplay Award for A very discreet hero in 1996, then the Grand Prix for The Prophet in 2009, Jacques Audiard won the Palme d’Or in 2015 for his seventh feature film. Invited in “Private screening” on the occasion of the release of Dheepan, the director and screenwriter evoked his need to start from reality to create his works. Start from the experience of “those people we don’t see“to reveal their heroic dimension.

The filmmaker crowned with multiple awards also confided in his art in 2018. A large part of his intrigues are initiation stories, the question of generational transmission is central and often problematic: does that say something about his own relationship to cinema? During this masterclass recorded in public, Jacques Audiard expresses his memories linked to the making of his films.

For further…

Are you dying to hear more about French directors on the Croisette? Immerse yourself in this unpublished archive of the 1966 Cannes Film Festival where we hear Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean-Luc Godard, Marcel Camus, Jean Delannoy, Claude Lelouch, Robert Bresson and many other renowned filmmakers debate this question: “How prevalent is the anecdote in a film?

To listen


Cannes Film Festival: colloquium of film writers hosted by Henri-Georges Clouzot (1966)

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From Cousteau to Audiard: French cinema through 8 Palmes d’Or

Hank Gilbert