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Forget the Palme D’Or! Cannes greatness is measured by the Best Director prize

May 16, 2012 by Simon Kinnear in Festivals, Opinion with 0 Comments

Nicholas Winding Refn wins Best Director at Cannes 2011

For the next fortnight, all you’ll hear from Cannes revolves around who will win the Palme D’or. Yet, for me, the film I’m most excited to see will be the one that wins Best Director.

As I’ve argued in the past, the Palme D’Or – aka the Branch of Bling – is unduly affected by the directors’ past form, the politics of the Cannes jury or the fear of granting posterity anything other than a big, weighty art-house drama.

In contrast, Best Director tends to be awarded to original, exuberant films that delight in sheer bravado, highly focused technique or balls-out entertainment.

No fewer than three of my all-time top 10 have won Best Director at Cannes – Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped, Matthieu Kassovitz’s La Haine, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love.

Add to this Jules Dassin’s Rififi, Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, Robert Altman’s The Player, Joel Coen’s Fargo, Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. and Michael Haneke’s Hidden, and you have a list of greats that easily outrank many of the films that have won the Palme D’Or over the years. 

Last year, Nicolas Winding Refn took Best Director for Drive, and watched as his unheralded speed-freak overtook Palme D’Or winner The Tree Of Life in many end-of-year polls.

This year could see Wes Anderson, Andrew Dominik, David Cronenberg, Matteo Garrone, John Hillcoat or Jeff Nicholls join this illustrious company.  My money’s on Cronenberg, probably my favourite ever filmmaker but not the kind of guy who wins Palme D’Ors.

So fear not if your favourite doesn’t win the big prize (which, according to my betting slip, is going to go to Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux or one of the South Korean entries) because there’s no disgrace in walking away with the Cannes Best Director prize.  In the long run, it’s the better deal.

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