Throughout the period when the 73rd edition of the Cannes Film Festival was to be held, we evoke a highlight of the Cannes legend, accompanied by a period archive. Today, back to the scandal surrounding the 1979 Palme d’Or, awarded ex aequo to Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola and The drum by Volker Schlöndorff.
Find the other episodes of our series[#CannesForever]:
>> The year when Gus Van Sant surprised everyone
>> The year when Tim Burton awarded an unexpected Palme to the brilliant Apichatpong Weerasethakul
>> The year when Adjani and Bowie were the divinities of the Croisette
Ahead of the 1979 Cannes Film Festival, the organizers struggled to bring the two opposing sides to the Croisette on the eve of the awards ceremony. On one side, there is the author Françoise Sagan. Gilles Jacob, for whom this is the second edition as general delegate of the festival, and Robert Favre Le Bret, its president, invite him to chair the jury. The one who has so far refused to participate in any literary prize first publicly states that she has very little interest in cinema – she declares in the archive below that she has not been there for 10 years – and that she isbothered” by this “charge”.
It is the Cannes sun that will finally push her to accept. Like an oracle, the presenter ends up saying to him: “It’s still very hard to have the casting vote as president of the jury when there will be tie-breaks to be made, isn’t it?”. This voice will turn out to be less preponderant than he seemed to think.
On the other side, there is Francis Ford Coppola and his monumental film Apocalypse Now. After shooting and post-production as chaotic as they were long (238 days of shooting and two years of editing!), for which the expected delivery deadline had already been exceeded a year and a half ago, the film finally seems ready. . Seems, because Francis keeps changing the famous end. He agrees to unveil it at Cannes for the first time, on condition, it is said, that the film is in competition.
This would be an exception to the rule that a filmmaker who has already won the palme d’or (Coppola was for secret talk five years earlier) cannot again be selected in competition. Jacob is already giving a strong sign of his attachment to the film by making an exception for Apocalypse Nowbefore modifying the rules for the next edition.
Scandal in the jury
The troubled fate of the film continues on the Croisette. The reels of a version Work in progress arrive at the last minute. Coppola’s requirements also concern projection conditions. The night before, technicians installed in the room a battery of high-tech equipment required by the filmmaker. During the press conference following the film, Coppola utters the famous phrase “My film is not about the Vietnam War, it is the Vietnam War” and reportedly announced a screening of a new print with a different ending, the reels of which he holds on his yacht.
The reception of the film is catastrophic for the American press and rather good for the European press. The criticisms relate especially to the end and the appearance of Marlon Brando, enigmatic, sublime and hallucinated, but perceived at the time by part of the press as messy and frustrating. The president of the jury hates the film and wants to give the prize to the Drum by Volker Schlondorff, adapted from the novel by Gunter Grass. She manages to convince the other members of the jury but the evening before the award ceremony, Robert Favre Le Bret would have used his influence to turn the tide in favor of Coppola’s film. Maurice Bessy, ex-general delegate of the festival, was a member of the jury that year. Furious, Sagan threatens to pack her bags the same evening to return to Paris. A compromise will finally be found: an equal prize will be awarded to the two films.
Disclosure and expense report
The affair might not have been brought to the general public if Françoise Sagan had not made it public seven months later in the newspaper Le Matin de Paris, on December 13. She speaks of a rigged Palme d’Or and criticizes the festival for not having paid its hotel costs. The organizers respond by publishing the expense report of 12,000 francs (1,800 euros) that the writer left when she left. Contacted by Le Monde the next day, Robert Favre-Lebret declared: “ I’m not going to respond to the untruths of someone who, seven months later, makes things up. (…) If she had had any doubts, she could have resigned and not chair the closing ceremony. (…) In thirty-three festivals, if I had exerted pressure, it would be known!”
If, in retrospect, we can only rejoice that Cannes rewarded such a great film, compared to a more minor film like the Drum, we suspect that the festival found an interest in it in terms of brand image and in order to ensure enhanced global visibility. By giving the palm to Apocalypse NowCannes proves to the whole world (and especially to the Americans) that a great auteur film coupled with a superproduction (the film will have cost 30 million dollars in the end) can use the festival as a launching pad.
It will operate at full speed: two Oscars (best cinematography and best sound), three Golden Globes (best director, best supporting role and best soundtrack) and above all 150 million dollars in revenue worldwide. It will be necessary to wait pulp Fiction in 1994 to see a film break the Palme d’Or success record set by Coppola’s masterpiece.
Find our archive: our interview with Francis Ford Coppola for the release of Twixt in 2012
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[#CannesForever] The year when Françoise Sagan denounced the rigged palme d’or given to “Apocalypse Now” – Les Inrocks