Cannes Film Festival judging practices revealed by letter of former judge

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Tuesday August 5, 2008
Cannes: the jury is outed by Bogarde

For sceptics who wonder just how straight the judging of this or that famous prize is, the English actor Dirk Bogarde has just blown the whistle from beyond the grave, revealing how attempts were made to 'nobble' him when he was given the prestigious job of president of the judging panel at the Cannes film festival almost 25 years ago.

In his private letters, just published and serialised in the Daily Telegraph, he tells a friend: "We were, or rather I was, (as President) informed long before that we were to award prizes to 'commercial films and players, not to Art Subjects or players who are un-known generally. This must be a Family Festival, not a political one'. So much for my personal brief; coupled with the vague suggestion, most delicately put, that John Huston had been PROMISED the Palme d'Or for Under the Volcano, Finney Best Actor, and Jacqueline Bissett, (not half bad, but not good enough) was to be best Actress."

He continues: "Well: Volcano stands or falls on the performance of the actor who plays 'Firman'. And it fell. I regret to say that it only got two votes in all the sessions which I held. Finally the Festival Organisers were appalled when we voted Best Actor to two brilliant Spanish gentlemen [Alfredo Landa and Francisco Rabal]. And Helen Mirren [Best Actress] sent them into a sort of foaming fit! 'Who IS she!' they cried, 'What film is she in?'"

Seldom have the secrets of the Cannes jury room been revealed and Bogarde's letter, written to Kathleen Tynan, wife of the celebrated critic Kenneth Tynan, will be doubly wounding to Cannes even now. Besides describing the pressure put on him, he also reveals a deal of hypocrisy about the world's most famous festival. Though Bogarde was chairman in 1984, to this day, organisers make a virtue of the fact that they are French and they won't be ruled by the big bucks of the, usually, Hollywood studios.

Bogarde, who died in 1999, goes on to tell Tynan in the letter, written the month after the festival, that the organisers became apoplectic when they were told of the jury's decision.

"When we made the final announcement," he writes, "before leaving for the theatre... there was hell let loose! They admitted, or one of them did to be fair, that Huston had been promised that he'd win everything... 'You have to award Huston SOMETHING!' they, (he), yelled with a face crimson with rage. A silence fell among us. There was nothing TO award. Then the spokesman said 'After all, be reasonable, he has had to come 7,000 miles for this evening'. To which Stanley Donen, the US member of the jury, said in his high, dry voice: 'You do not get a fuckin' Palme d'Or for TRAVELLING!' Which ended the session neatly."

A compromise was reached and Huston was eventually awarded an 'hommage' and invited on stage but Bogarde, best known for his own appearances in films such as Accident and The Servant, felt he had won, explaining to Tynan: "I behaved rather like a British Officer dealing with the wogs in Aden! Snap, and a certain amount of table-banging. It worked splendidly."

Barb e., Tuesday, 5 August 2008 17:45 (fifteen years ago) link

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