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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 19:19 GMT 20:19 UK
The pulling power of Cannes
Lars Von Trier
Von Trier's big win showed how Cannes divides critics
The Cannes Film Festival is known for attracting international stars and the elite of the movie-making industry.

But behind the glitz lies a deadly serious movie market - the most competitive and wide-ranging in the world.

The public are excluded. Instead, hordes of producers, directors, buyers and sellers and unknown hopefuls descend on the town, eager to make the deal of a lifetime.

Many of them will spend their time wheeling and dealing in hotel suites across Cannes.

Some will leave with contracts and contacts but without having seen a single film in the competition.

Cannes winners
2001: The Son's Room
2000: Dancer in the Dark (Lars Von Trier, Denmark)
1999: Rosetta (Luc et Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Belgium)
1998: Eternity and a Day (Theo Angelopoulus, Greece)
1997: Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran)
1996: Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh, UK)
1995: Underground (Emir Kusturica, Yugoslavia)
1994: Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, US)
1993: The Piano (Jane Campion, New Zealand)

Yet the high calibre of film on offer from Europe, Asia and the US is further indication of the regard bestowed on the festival.

And for those who do go to Cannes specifically to snatch up the best movies, the fortnight can be spent in a state of panic.

They rush from one screening to another, always believing they are missing something better on another screen.

All of this explains why, after more than 50 years, Cannes remains one of the high points in the movie calendar.

Stunts

Established back in 1939, Cannes soon became a favourite hunting ground for the paparazzi.

Their cameras would be trained on the likes of the young Bridget Bardot, making her debut in a bathing costume at the festival in 1953.

Brigitte Bardot
Brigitte Bardot made her debut at Cannes in 1953

In one of the more infamous incidents in the following year, aspiring actress Simone Sylva whipped off her bra and thrust herself upon a startled Robert Mitchum posing for photographers.

Cannes has also established itself as the best showcase for films that will shape our cinema-going year.

In the early days, directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini and Orson Welles helped to consolidate this reputation.

More recently, Italian director Roberto Benigni won second prize at Cannes in 1998 for Life Is Beautiful and went on to clinch best film and best actor at the 1999 Oscars.

Other examples include Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction which picked up top prize in 1994. And Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies was a 1996 favourite.

Unpredictable

But the Cannes jury does not always award the most prestigious and coveted prize - the Palme d'Or - to a film destined for box office success.

This was the case with last year's winner, Dancer in the Dark, a musical tragedy starring Icelandic singer Björk from Danish director
Secrets & Lies
Secrets & Lies became a hit

Dancer in the Dark left critics divided at Cannes. Once released, it continued to be a cause for debate and, though not a flop, the film never quite managed to scale box office heights.

As a result, Hollywood studios often shy away from using Cannes to unveil their big, nurtured projects or entering them for competition.

This year's much-anticipated feature animation Shrek will, for example, have already been released in the US before the festival starts.

But, for the thousands of people who return to Cannes each year, it is this unpredictability that remains the the festival's most enduring trait.


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