Cannes Film Festival: 50 years after winning Palme D’or, Francis Ford Coppola returns to the competition

The red carpet will soon roll out for the 77th Festival de Cannes. The international film festival, playing out May 14-25, has a distinct American voice this year. “Barbie” filmmaker Greta Gerwig is the first U.S. female director name jury president. Many veteran American helmers are heading to the French Rivera resort town. George Lucas, who turns 80 on May 14, will receive an honorary Palme d’Or. Francis Ford Coppola’s much-anticipated “Megalopolis” is screening in competition, as is Paul Schrader’s “Oh Canada.” Kevin Costner’s new Western “Horizon, An American Saga” will premiere out of competition and Oliver Stone’s “Lula” is part of the special screening showcase.

Fifty years ago, Coppola was the toast of the 27th Cannes Film Festival. His brilliant psychological thriller “The Conversation” starring Gene Hackman won the Palme D’Or and well as a Special Mention from the Ecumenical Jury. The film would earn three Oscar nominations: picture, original screenplay and sound. It had a lot of competition at the Academy Awards from Coppola’s other blockbuster “The Godfather Part II” which won six including film, director and supporting actor.

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Rene Clair, the veteran French director of such classics as “A Nous La Liberte” as well as such American productions as “I Married a Witch” and “And Then There Were None,” was the jury head. Italian actress Monica Vitti and “The Young Lions” novelist Irwin Shaw were among jury members.

The festival opened on a high note with Federico Fellini’s beloved semi-autobiographical “Amacord,” which was screened out of competition. “Amacord” would win the best foreign film Oscar in 1975 and he was also nominated for best director.

The productions screening in competition were an eclectic mix: Steven Spielberg’s first feature “The Sugarland Express”; Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Ali Fear Eats the Soul”;  Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Arabian Nights”;  Hal Ashby’s “The Last Detail”; ” Ken Russell’s “Mahler”;  Robert Mulligan’s “The Nickle Ride”;  Robert Taylor’s “The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat”; and Robert Altman’s “Thieves Like Us.” Other films showcased during the fest were Jacques Tati’s final feature “Parade,” Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” and Robert Bresson’s “Lancelot du Lac.”

The closing night film “S*P*Y*S” thankfully was shown out of competition. Irvin Kershner may have directed the best “Star Wars” flick, 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” he certainly struck out with this spy comedy reuniting the stars of 1970’s “MASH” – Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould. Variety proclaimed: “The script is tasteless, Irvin Kershner’s direction is futile, and the whole effort comes across as vulgar, offensive and tawdry.”

Besides Coppola’s win, Pasolini’s “Arabian Nights” received the Grand Prix Special du Jury; Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins and Spielberg earned screenplay honors for “Sugarland Express”: and Marie-Jose Nat won best actress for “Les Violons du Ball.” Though Jack Nicholson recently lost the best actor Oscar for “The Last Detail” to Jack Lemmon for “Save the Tiger,” he took home the top male honors for the comedy-drama at Cannes. Three years earlier, he had been nominated for the Palme d’Or for his directorial debut “Drive, He Said.”

“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” won the FIPRESCI Prize for an in-competition production, but Bresson declined the award for his out-of-competition “Lancelot du Lac.” Russell’s “Mahler” was honored with the Technical Grand Prize and “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” earned the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.

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