‘The Legend of the Palme d'Or’ ('La Legende de La Palme d'or'): Cannes Review

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
A competent work gilded with engaging interviews 

An assortment of Palme d'Or winners, including Martin Scorsese, Jane Campion, and Quentin Tarantino, share memories of winning in director Alexis Veller's documentary

In open, relaxed and at times touchingly frank interviews, ten Palme d'Or winners - Jane Campion, Emir Kusturica, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, the Dardenne brothers, Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Nanni Moretti - share what it's like to be awarded one of cinema's highest accolades in The Legend of the Palme d'Or. Just over an hour long, this slickly constructed documentary by director Alexis Veller, looks like it was tailor made for the Cannes film festival's Cannes Classics section where it duly premiered this year. Given the nature of the subject, other festivals are unlikely to program it, but it could have an afterlife as a May schedule filler on upmarket TV stations, especially in France, in years to come.

Supplementing the interview material, extra footage documents the manufacture of the physical awards themselves by the film's financial supporter Chopard, tracking the process from gold mining in Columbia to the jewelers' workshops of Europe. As interesting as it is to watch miners blowing up rocks to extract the element and to see how the precious final frond is cast, it all rather compounds the impression that the whole thing is an exercise in brand management, even self-promotion, both for the festival and Chopard, done up in a classy package. Which is fine, if perhaps just a teensy, weensy bit disingenuous given what big a deal the festival makes about its purity as an institution.

After some fetching helicopter shots that sweep the water from the Chateau de la Napoule to Cannes, accompanied by churning, yearning strings on the soundtrack, the film cracks in with a montage of sound bites from the filmmakers interviewed, layered with the obligatory archive clips of starlets on the beach, palm trees swaying and winners collecting prizes.

Each of the interviewees share endearing stories about the night he or she won. Wenders, for example, recalls exchanging knowing glances across the aisle with his fellow nominee John Huston as each prize was given out; he was so flabbergasted when he won (for Paris, Texas) Huston had to chivvy him to stand up. Later that night he parked his Palme on top of a pinball machine at the Petit Carlton while he played all night against Jim Jarmusch. Five years after that, as head of the competition jury Wenders handed a Palme to Soderbergh, warning him as he did so that the prize would be a heavy weight to carry. This neatly segues into Soderbergh's own recollections. He humbly explains how a series of happy "accidents" led to sex, lies and videotape (which was originally supposed to play in Un Certain Regard) winning the top prize.

Luck, both good and bad, crops up as a theme throughout. Moretti remembers how he managed to leave his Palme for The Son's Room behind on the plane home to Rome, although he found it later at the airport. Campion, on the other hand, shares how her victory was for many years inextricably tangled with grief: heavily pregnant when she accepted the prize for The Piano, she gave birth shortly afterwards to a child who died 10 days later. Meanwhile, Apichatpong discusses how his win for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives became a hot political issue in Thailand which at that time was undergoing a severe political crisis. The death of nearly a hundred protestors around that time cast a shadow over his entire experience of the festival, as did scurrilous rumors once he got home that the government had "bought" the award for him.

Some might feel disappointed that despite the title, there's less legend here than one might want, and little in the way of gossip or insider information. At least, Martin Scorsese spills a few beans about how that the year he attended Cannes with Taxi Driver, he'd heard that jury president Tennessee Williams hated the movie, which helped him to relax and enjoy the rest of the festival -- and a pleasant lunch with jurors Sergio Leone and Costa-Gavras, who clearly did like the film-- before he flew home to New York. And the doc neatly finishes off with revelations from each of the interviewees about where they keep their Palmes. Most confess to storing their prizes in closets, away from prying eyes, apart Tarantino who keeps his in pride of place on its own special mantelpiece.

Production companies: An AV Productions production with the support of Chopard
With: Jane Campion, Emir Kusturica, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Nanni Moretti
Director: Alexis Veller
Producer: Axel Truptil, Veronique Vasseur
Director of photography: Sebastien Gonon
Editor: Franck Zahler
Composer: Thomas Dappelo
Sales: AV Productions
No rating, 66 minutes