Robert De Niro and the Branch of Bling
Last year, in a Total Film feature about the Cannes Film Festival, I achieved the mighty feat of correctly guessing that Uncle Boonme Who Can’t Predict The Future But Who Can Recall His Past Lives would win the Palme D’Or. How did I make this astounding prediction? Simply this: the jury president was Tim Burton, who (to put it mildly) likes the oddball stuff.
It wouldn’t be the first time that the winner shares certain artistic similarities with the Pres, a position where the personal taste of the boss can help influence fellow jurors into choosing the “best” from the often chaotic and disparate bunch of films up for the Palme D’Or.
So – for example – Brit-grit guy Stephen Frears gave the Branch of Bling to socio-realist Romanian abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, austere horror maestro David Cronenberg’s jury picked the Dardennes Brothers’ bleak Rosetta, and Clint Eastwood’s selection of Pulp Fiction felt like a passing on of the handgun for American screen violence.
Speaking of Quentin Tarantino, however, it’s not a given that the obvious film will win. When he led the jury in 2004, the smart money was on Oldboy – just the sort of ultra-violent serio-comic movie Tarantino would love – but instead Fahrenheit 9/11 won. (That said, one controversial American maverick pointedly choosing another, in an election year to boot, is another kind of symmetry.)
Incidentally, still on Tarantino… Given the scandal when he handed the top prize at Venice to ex-girlfriend Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere last year, we probably shouldn’t expect a repeat of Cannes 2009, when Isabelle Huppert headed the jury that gave the Palme D’Or to Michael Haneke (the director who led Huppert to her own Cannes win in The Piano Teacher).
That said, allegiances are hard to shake. English-language films tend to do better when there’s an English-speaking president… or, at least, one who has worked in Hollywood at some stage of their career. Francis Ford Coppola’s jury chose Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies; David Lynch opted for Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. The startling dominance of U.S. indie between 1989 and 1991, when sex, lies and videotape, Wild At Heart and Barton Fink won in successive years, was down in part to juries led by Europeans with Yankophile tendencies, respectively Wim Wenders, Bernardo Bertolucci and Polanski.
It’s not a hard-and-fast rule. I doubt anybody guessed before Cannes 1998 that Martin Scorsese’s jury would laud Greek art-house drama Eternity and a Day. But the announcement yesterday that Robert De Niro will preside over the Cannes 2011 jury adds an intriguing spin on proceedings – the first time Cannes has been run by a guy who has acted with a CGI moose.
Will Cannes see its first American winner since 2004 on De Niro’s watch? Will some young, unknown tyro arrive to remind the once-great actor of his youthful ambition and vigour? Or will a star who has coasted in (let’s be honest) dreck for over a decade try and persuade his jurors to go for something safe and middlebrow?
But – whatever film takes your fancy when they announce the Palme D’Or nominees – don’t forget to actually make your bet, like I did last year. I could have retired on Uncle Boonme; instead, I’m still writing this shit.