Rogue's gallery of Cannes Film Festival Presidents
To mark the news that Steven Spielberg has been named president of the jury of the 66th Cannes Film Festival, here’s our list of some of the most notorious Presidents, and why the organisers at Cannes were probably pleased to see the back of them! It’s a gallery of big spenders, cunning schemers, over critical people, and divas.
The most extravagant: Françoise Sagan (1979)
1979 was a great year for films at the Festival. The competition included the great masters of cinema of the 70s: Coppola, Herzog, Wajda, Malick, Ivory, Corneau, Téchiné. But everyone seemed to agree that the outstanding film of the year was Apocalypse Now. Everyone except Françoise Sagan, who being a writer prefered the screen adaptation of Günter Grass’s “The Tin Drum”, directed by Volker Schlöndorff. After constant battles with the rest of the jury and the organisers, she managed finally to have the Palme shared by both movies. Perhaps as her revenge, she left without paying her enormous minibar and room service bill. Several tens of thousands of francs-worth of various forms of alcohol was left to pay. The Festival organisers also refused to pay this bill, and nobody knows what happened in the end.
The one that came back: Jeanne Moreau (1975 and 1995)
Apart from in the early years of the festival (1946-1959), when writers were readily jury presidents in quick succession (Maurois, Cocteau, Achard), Jeanne Moreau is the only one to have had that honor. The reason is simple: Cannes impresario Gilles Jacob had fallen under her spell when he saw her in a play in 1953. In his book “Life is Like a Dream”, Jacob recalls the words of Truffaut: "She has all the qualities expected of a woman combined with all those expected of a man, without the drawbacks of either ... " No wonder such a perfect woman was twice president.
The most severe: Roman Polanski (1991)
Polanski was unimpressed by the standard of the competition in 1991. He couldn’t stomach “La Belle Noiseuse”, Jacques Rivette’s long and very slow film of an artist getting the hots for Emanuelle Beart, nor was he enthralled by Kieslowski’s “The Double Life of Veronique”. When it comes to “The Suspended Step of the Stork”, by Angelopoulos, or Van Gogh, by Pialat, best not mention them, and as for “Europa”, well let’s just say that Roman was not impressed by the laughing frivolity of Mr Lars Von Trier. Then comes the day of “Barton Fink”, by the Coen Brothers: a Hollywood writer shuts himself up in a room to write a film about wrestling. It’s all very paranoid, very Polanski-esque.
So Polanski decided to give this one all the prizes: the Palme d'Or, best direction, and Best Actor (for John Turturro). Since then the rules have been changed and it is now forbidden to give a prize to the film that receives the Palme d'Or, with the exception of the two acting awards.
The most colourful: Gérard Depardieu (1992)
In 1992, the excesses of Gérard Depardieu made everyone smile again. When he was president of the jury he came hurtling in at dawn, laughing in the kitchen of the Majestic, demanding his "tricolor" breakfast (a glass of rosé, a glass of white, a glass of red). Lucky for him, the Russian flag is tricolor.
The golfer: Clint Eastwood (1994)
Clint Eastwood took matters into his own hands when Warner Brothers put him with his family in a beautiful villa in Mougins with a park, a pool, a screening room and a golf driving range, things that just aren’t available in the humble Hotel Martinez. Clint liked it so much that he insisted the jury decide here instead of the traditional Villa Domergue. This meant the security services had to check the place for bombs.
Eastwood received his guests in a tracksuit and took everyone into the dining room where he himself wrote the jury votes on large white-boards he’d had installed for the occasion. This idea turned out to be unworkable, and he finally accepted the secret ballot, as required by the regulations. Manipulation or natural charisma: he managed to give the palm to Tarantino, his protégé.
The resigner: Francis Ford Coppola (1989-1996)
In June 1988, much earlier than is usual, Coppola accepted the presidency of the 1989 festival. The festival relied on “New York Stories”, a film made of a collection of pretty average sketches by Scorsese, Coppola and Allen, to ensure a good quota of stars on the Croisette. Disney, the film producer agreed, but forgot to advise Coppola, who becomes quite upset. A few months before the Festival, he resigned, officially because of too many other commitments. Wim Wenders was persuaded to serve as a stopgap. Coppola finally accomplish the mission in 1996 and was one of the most courteous and democratic chairmen.
The most capricious: Isabelle Adjani (1997)
She initially refused the presidency in 1990, feeling "not worthy." She accepted the job for the fiftieth anniversary Festival, in 1997, as long as she could have a say in who else would be on the jury. And that’s where the trouble started. She went through the list with a fine tooth comb, asked to have some removed and suggested others, who were never available. She finally put together Tim Burton, Paul Auster, Luc Bondy, Patrick Smith, Michael Ondaatje, Gong Li, Mira Sorvino, Mike Leigh, Nanni Moretti. She went on to regret this selection! Ever the Diva, Adjani demands that the box reserved for the Mayor of Cannes is assigned to her, and demands to have Catherine Deneuve’s bodyguard.
She arrived in Cannes on the Blue Train (luxury overnight train equivalent of the Orient Express), four days before the opening, showing up with her secretary, her son, her assistant: in fact so many they can’t all fit into the Presidential Suite which was promised. She brings two fax machines, a microwave (for her special combination diet), telephone lines ... She insists that the jury sees all the films together, as a group, from 8:30 in the morning and then continues with the 11am screening. She expects them to discuss the films as they run from one to the next. As the days go by, things get worse.
Adjani asked the jury to have breakfast with her at 7:45 and imposed her own diet of radishes, grilled peppers and proteins ... And when it came to the time to decide the winners, she really got the jury against her. She declared that Nanni Moretti was plotting to impose its views and called him Machiavelli (see below). The placid bearded Mike Leigh made a series of acid comments about her and so she called him the garden gnome.
The most radical: David Cronenberg (1999)
This was the year the world’s critics went to town on Cannes – slating the choices of Cronenberg and the jury. In Variety, Tod McCarthy was brutal, while in France, the right-wing press had a fit. Cronenberg and jury are accused of bigotry, elitism, pessimism and lots of other -isms. Their crime? A radical prize list: Palme d'Or and joint Best Actress for Rosetta, by the Dardenne brothers and Grand Prix and Best Actor and joint Best Actress for Humanity, by Bruno Dumont. Two directors supposedly too drab and grim for the general public.
Cronenberg complained: "Why have a jury, ultimately? If popularity is the only yardstick then just let the audience vote for a movie, and give the prize to the most popular film. If a work is more difficult, complex, deeper, the viewer must work to understand, and fewer people will want or be able to do so. I do not see this elitism or arrogance. As for pessimism, this is highly subjective: when I see Rosetta, I'm not depressed; I am, however, excited and euphoric. This may be a pessimistic film in some of its social observations but certainly not in terms of cinema. '
The most Machiavellian: Nanni Moretti (2012)
In 1997, when he was a juror under the chairmanship of the Queen Adjani, Moretti pushed through the idea of a double palm. Adjani wanting to reward "The Sweet Hereafter", by Egoyan and Moretti preferring “ Taste of Cherry”, by Kiarostami. After persuading the management of the Festival (who don’t like tied prizes), he finally gave his voice to “The Eel”, by Imamura. Adjani was enraged at seeing her favourite get the 2nd Prize.
In 2012, when Moretti was President, the winners list created new controversy: four major award-winning films (Post Tenebras Lux, Carlos Reygadas, Beyond the hills, Cristian Mungiu, The Angel’s Share, Ken Loach, Reality, Matteo Garrone) are distributed by the company Pact which had broadcast, financed and sold internationally Habemus Papam, Moretti’s latest film. The Press cried conflict of interest, although the Festival denied any scheming.
Mr Spielberg - you have a lot to live up to!