Michael Moore's "controversial" film Fahrenheit 9/11 was awarded the top prize -- the Palme d'Or -- at the Cannes Film Festival earlier today. I haven't seen any of the films in competition at Cannes, so I'm not saying it wasn't worthy. And Moore looked genuinely shocked, even though he says he flew back to Cannes just yesterday evening after being notified that there was a good chance his film had won ... something.
It should be fascinating to see the fallout of this prize. Obviously, this gives Fahrenheit 9/11 even a higher profile than it already had in recent weeks, what with Disney deciding it wouldn't allow Miramax to distribute the film. It should also hasten another distributor picking-up the picture, even though the Palme d'Or is by no means a guarantee of box-office success. But most interestingly, I'm sure on some level, there will be no less than a few conservative commentators out there who decide that this is just another example of the French bashing America.
That's why it's even more interesting than it would have been otherwise that the President of the jury choosing Moore's film was Quentin Tarantino. Heading a jury that also included actresses Tilda Swinton, Kathleen Turner (wow! Those 23 years since Body Heat have really not treated her well) and (Tribeca Film Festival no-show but French beauty) Emmanuelle Baert, the two big winners were almost completely predictable. I know that Filmbrain loved Oldboy, but it's not so shocking that QT would push an Asian cinema revenge-drama. It's his favorite kind of movie; it's basically what he was making with Kill Bill.
A friend of mine floated the notion that Harvey Weinstein most likely pushed QT to move the jury toward Moore's film. Of course that's a very plausible scenario as well. Fahrenheit 9/11 winning at least a little egg on the face of Michael Eisner and Disney, although it is important to note that winning the Cannes Film Festival -- winning any festival, for that matter, including Sundance -- does not a box office success make; not even an indie success. Last year's Cannes winner, Gus Van Sant's fascinating and daring if not completely successful take on the Columbine tragedy, Elephant, didn't really do much in its limited release, and last year's Sundance winner, the phenomenal American Splendor, grossed just over $6-Million in its slightly larger but by no means wide theatrical release.
So no matter how often Moore looked and Tarantino and his jury as he repeated "What did you do?" this win at Cannes really won't have much affect as to how many people see the film. Some distributor will pick-up the movie and release it, and those interested will see it. It gives the movie a couple extra days of prominence within the worldwide news cycle, but Moore has a loud enough voice that he wouldn't let the controversy go away anyway. But this prize does do something for Tarantino. It lets him say to all those Americans who claim that a Cannes win is just more anti-Americanism by the French that it was he, an American, and a popular one at that -- at least popular enough to be a guest-judge on American Idol and in this day and age, that just might be an adequate barometer -- who led the group giving this prize. He was willing to stand-up, in France, and not order freedom fries but rather announce to the world that Fahrenheit 9/11, would be the first documentary in nearly 50 years (and only the second ever, I believe) to be called the best film at the best film festival in the world. Tarantino isn't afraid of Eisner (especially when Harvey is on his side); Tarantino isn't afraid of Republicans; Tarantino isn't afraid of being a rebel or a maverick -- he relishes those labels when thrust upon him, accurately or not.
And so, as we look back upon this year's Cannes Film Festival, I wouldn't hesitate to bet that as many people will remember not just the film that won the Palme d'Or but the president of the jury that gave it the prize. I don't want to take anything away from either Moore's film or Oldboy, two films which I have not seen but about which I have heard/read marvelous commentary, and I know the magnificent chin didn't make any decisions on his own. Still, when Tarantino is involved in anything, so is his ego, and I can't help but wonder which takes control: the film fanatic in him which relishes a movie such as Oldboy, or the ability to know that he will go down as the American who gave one of the world's most prestigious prizes to such a timely and controversial film. As far as I'm concerned, I just have to look at what came in first, and what was second.
Then again, I'm a bit cynical about things.