7 Palme D'Or Winners You Really Should See

Hidden gems from the spirit of Cannes past

 

The thing about Cannes is that it’s not necessarily the films that take the top prize that you remember.

or every Pulp Fiction there’s a film like The Hireling (look it up – it only just missed the list), for every Taxi Driver and sex, lies and videotape there’s a Rosetta or Man Of Iron. Selected here are the seven Palme D’or winners that you may not have seen, but that you really, really should.

La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960)

Better known than some of the others, but not seen as much as it deserves to be because it’s subtitled and black and white and people are lazy (you heard).

Not only is it brilliant to watch – a dazzling twilight crawl through the louche streets of Rome – but it encapsulates the Cannes spirit perfectly, with film stars and journos rubbing up against the over-privileged in an elitist orgy of egos (the character Papperazzo even gave his name to parasitic snappers everywhere). [page-break]

 

The Knack…and How to Get It (Richard Lester, 1965)

Rip-roaringly energetic duck and weave through ‘60s London from the director of the Beatles’ movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help.

The tone of the film has dated a little painfully – it stars Michael Crawford as a stiff teacher learning how to pick up girls from his smooth mate, and is about as PC as eating panda sandwiches – but its so raw and full of ideas that you won’t care.[page-break]

 

If.... (Lindsey Anderson, 1969)

A savage and scandalous deconstruction of the British class system depicted through an armed student uprising at a public school.

Not unknown, especially to regular TF readers, but this surreal masterpiece is an absolute must-see. It’s no coincidence that a film about hard-edged revolution should win the Palme D’or the year after the festival was abandoned due to unrest surround the 1968 uprisings. A proper finger-on-the-pulse moment.[page-break]

 

Scarecrow (Jerry Schatzberg, 1973)

An authentic lost classic, starring a post-Godfather Al Pacino opposite the more established Gene Hackman.

It’s a road movie, essentially, with Hackman’s ex-con and Pacino’s shoreside sailor winding across America to get home. On the way there’s trouble – and a disturbing prison abuse scene – but the joy is in seeing these about-to-be-great’s of Hollywood’s New Cinema given the space and time to really spar with each other in an unpressured, slow-burning setting.[page-break]

 

The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

While Pacino made Scarecrow between Godfathers, Coppola crafted this meticulous and haunting thriller, again starring Hackman.

Coppola’s mob trilogy gets the headlines, but this is not only arguably his finest film, but maybe even a perfect film, so tight and together. It’s about the essential loneliness of being human - of course - and has Hackman’s expert surveillance man trapped in a web of guilt and suspicion. Nixon-era paranoia hangs over the film like a thunderous cloud, and there are no happy endings. The French loved it.[page-break]

 

Missing (Costa-Gavras, 1982)

Another political conspiracy thriller, this time from Greek director Costa-Gavras and starring Jack Lemmon.

The movie’s based on the real story of Charles Horman, a US journalist who disappeared during the American-sponsored revolution in Chile in 1973. Lemmon is a reservoir of sorrow as the hack’s businessman dad, his frustration allowing him to show a dark edge that his comedy classics kept hidden. Charged, true, and utterly damning. [page-break]

The Class (Laurent Cantet, 2008)

Brilliantly uplifting semi-autobiographical account of a Parisian high-school class, starring ex-teacher François Bégaudeau.

The impact comes from the naturalism of the performances (the kids, all fourteen and fifteen, are a revelation) and how ordinary the events depicted are. Think of it like a French high school-set version of The Wire – tics and nuances become everything as the smallest and most realistic confrontation is elevated to high drama. Fantastic.

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