The Cannes Film Festival -- which in 2016 unrolls its red carpet on the shores of the blue waters of the Mediterranean on May 11 -- has been described by many names. It has been called a giant that has been gobbling up dwarfs. It has been labelled a prostitute because of its glossy seductive pull. It has been termed a money monster for its icy approach to the commerce of cinema which is promoted through its hugely expanded market.
But wait -- Cannes is also pure cinema. It is almost divine art and, it is a movie critic’s cinema Paradiso, a festival that launched a thousand virtually-unknown directors.
India’s own Satyajit Ray saw his brilliance being recognised at the festival in 1956 with his debut feature, Pather Panchali. The West Bengal Government woke up from its sozzled slumber and said but Ray is our son, and hurriedly got down to feting Satyajit and humming The Song of the Little Road (Pather Panchali).
Watch a documentary on the film called Pather Panchali: A Living Resonance here:
Not as well known and widely written about is the story of another Indian director, Shaji N Karun, who was also discovered at Cannes in 1989 with his first work, Piravi (Malayalam) -- inspired by the infamous Rajan case in Kerala who went missing and was suspected to have been killed in a police encounter. Piravi won the Camera d’Or Prize at Cannes. (Shaji’s two other films, Swaham and Vanaprastham, also played at Cannes.)
So did Mira Nair -- another Cannes find, whose debut 1988 feature, Salaam Bombay - was about the city’s street children.
Watch the trailer of Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay here:
In contemporary times, Cannes has discovered several Indian filmmakers. Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan in 2010 -- said to be an autobiographical account of director/actor Anurag Kashyap -- was the festival’s discovery from India.
In 2012, Ashim Ahuluwalia was chosen by Cannes to screen his first-ever movie, Miss Lovely, a savage look at Mumbai’s porn industry and how the lives of two brothers are destroyed.
Another seedy story, Kanu Behl’s Titli in 2014, his first feature, it travelled to Cannes telling us the story (probably autobiographical) of a dysfunctional Delhi family that hijacks cars in its nefarious pursuit to get rich quickly.
Neeraj Ghaywan’s debut work, Masaan too was part of Cannes in 2015. It was a provocative plot about a young woman’s quest for sexual freedom, which gets her and her father into a social mess and financial ruin.
Cannes has also been the launch pad of many auteurs outside India.
Francois Truffaut’s career is really a legend. He got his fame and recognition at Cannes, though the festival had banned him -- a young vituperative critic -- in 1958.
But just a year later, Truffaut rode into the French Riviera (where Cannes stands) with his great black and white classic called 400 Blows. It was his first work and a Cannes that literally hated the French director’s guts (he took the old guard of cinema in the most brutal way) honoured him with the Best Director trophy.
Watch the trailer of 400 Blows here:
This speaks volumes about Cannes’s sense of fair play and justice that we would see time and again in the nearly seven decades that the festival has been rolling, but most specifically in the recent case of Danish auteur Lars Von Trier. Post the screening of his Melancholia in 2011, he joked at a crowded media conference -- with a huge gathering of international journalists -- that he sympathised with Hitler.
The world roared in anger, and the festival asked Von Trier to leave Cannes. But a just a year later, he was forgiven and invited to come back -- which he is yet to do.
But it was at Cannes in 1984 that the world discovered Von Trier -- who got the splendid opportunity to screen his first feature, The Element of Crime, a neo-noir artistic crime thriller about an expat detective in Cairo who undergoes hypnosis to recall his last case. The movie played in the top competition section.
Watch the trailer of The Element of Crime here:
Many other movies of Von Trier were shown at the festival -- Dancer in the Dark (which won a Palm d’or in 2000), Breaking the Waves, The Idiots, Dogville, Manderlay and so on.
On April 14, when Cannes announces its selections in Paris, we would probably know the festival’s latest discoveries.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 26 years.)