Tales From “The Other” Palme d’Or
The Palme d’Or is considered by most film aficionados and film industry players to be the biggest award outside of the coveted Oscar.
Pulp Fiction. Apocalypse Now. Sex, Lies & Videotape. The Tree of Life. MASH.
What do these films have in common? (Besides being great movies, of course…)
They all won the Palme d’Or (or its equivalent). The Palme d’Or is considered by most film aficionados and film industry players to be the biggest award outside of the coveted Oscar. As in the earlier examples, many films have gone on to become cultural touchstones ever since winning the Cannes Film Festival’s highest honor.
But did you know that there is a second Palme d’Or?
This prize goes to the top short film in competition each year. As a short-film watching community first and foremost, we find ourselves preferring this “other” Palme d’Or over the big one.
With all of the 2018 Cannes award winners being announced in just a few days, we thought it’d be nice to take a look back at the most recent Palme d’Or short film winners, then share our favorite parts of each one.
Chienne d’Histoire (2010)— Directed by Serge Avedikian
Though there are many great things to be said about this politically and artistically subversive work, two sequences stand out most.
First is the film’s opening credit sequence, a genius re-purposing of the Ken Burns effect for the world of animation. The first shots are of 1910 Constantinople. The gorgeously sun-swept tableaux first look like they could be real, aged photographs.
Yet, as the film pushes into the dense and chaotic streets, it is revealed the “photographs” were actually paintings. Once the transformation into 2-D animation is complete, the film successfully merges three different artistic mediums into one elegantly-designed credit sequence.
The pans, tilts and zooms over still paintings return in the film’s most climactic (and violent) scene. Instead of reinforcing a cliché, director Serge Avedikian uses the technique to great advantage, finding terror and chaos in abstract images of savagery. Complete with realistic sound effects and a very felt absence of soundtrack music, this sequence truly pulls you into the world of the dogs with an immediacy no animation or live action filmmaking could ever replicate.
Waves ’98 (2015) — directed by Ely Dagher
Ely Dagher’s bittersweet homage to Lebanon also blends photo-realistic images with animation, though this time with 3-D animation. Our favorite moments are actually not the trippier parts of this dreamscape cinema (though there are plenty of great, trippy moments you must check out!), but rather the subtle cinematic tricks Dagher and animation team use to realize the film’s themes of disillusionment.
In one of Waves’ most breathtaking moments, the protagonist closes his eyes, as if to dream, and layered over this animated close-up appears home movie footage of a young boy (presumably the director’s younger self) swinging himself back and forth. Not only do animation and real life literally collide, but it proves a poignant reversal of how films since Vertigo have attempted to make dreams more animated and less real.
It’s hard to bracket Waves into one particular structure or sequence only because of the intentionally disorienting style Dagher employs to cut between scenes. Hard cuts to black permeate the film, replicating the main character’s ability to float in and out of dreams and visions. We love the approach for its avant-garde sensibilities, and its ability to make us feel like we are in as fragmented an existence as Dagher’s autobiographical extension.
Bean Cake (2001) — directed by David Greenspan
2001 was the last time the United States took home the short film Palme d’Or, but you wouldn’t know the filmmaker’s origins from just watching this touching short. Its grainy and delicious black and white, along with its boxy aspect ratio, brings to mind postwar Japanese cinema more than the Y2K scrappy, independent spirit.
Much like the human dramas of Ozu, director David Greenspan observes (and without giving overt commentary) the central tensions between modernity and tradition. Also like Ozu, Greenspan uses the camera with restraint and for very specific framing. The camera never takes a view higher than the tallest child in the film, preferring us to see the key authority figure in the film from a series of low-angle shots.
The camera crew here also creates key framing divisions to illustrate the divide, both ideologically and aesthetically, between the transfer student and the young teacher.
The heart of the film comes through first in its performances, but is eventually cemented with the great empathy one can find in each and every frame of this very special Palme d’Or winner.
Also check out these trailers from other past Palme d’Or winners for inspiration (and more options for that short film queue we know you have going…)