Speculating about how the Cannes Film Festival might be different this year, with Joel and Ethan Coen at the head of the feature films competition jury, is irresistible. For one thing, their very appointment to the task is historic: standing as the first time in the 68-year history of the venerated festival, the jury has been headed by a pair of individuals (surely it will happen again in the relatively near future with the Cannes-beloved Dardenne brothers getting the call). For another, the Coens have been well-awarded fixtures at the festival, continually returning with new efforts ever since their shared career sprung up five or six rungs on the respectability ladder when Barton Fink walked away with the 1991 Palme d’Or. It was just two years ago that they collected their latest hardware here, claiming the Grand Prize of the Jury for Inside Llewyn Davis.
They clearly know their way around the fest. And yet their rambunctious style and burbling sense of humour has a very different texture than the stern, lovely, intense films that often dominate the festival’s slate. There’s certainly no guarantee that the head of the juror will tilt the decisions in the direction of their own artistic inklings (when Steven Spielberg was in charge, the Palme d’Or went to Blue is the Warmest Colour, a film he’d never be able to wrap his head around if he’d been given the opportunity to direct it), but the Coens are such distinctive creators that it’s intriguing to imagine them meeting films that, in every way, don’t speak their language.
Of course, they hang their director’s cone in a part of the cinematic world that can seem at odds with Cannes in a multitude of ways. It’s been 60 years since the top prize-winner at Cannes also snagged the Academy Award for Best Picture (1955’s Marty accomplished the feat). At least for now, the two esteemed awards-giving bodies (notably different levels of esteem perhaps, but esteem nonetheless) have the same reigning Best Actress, albeit for different films. Julianne Moore was named the Prix d’interprétation feminine at last year’s Cannes film festival for her work in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. She took the equivalent prize at this year’s Oscars for Still Alice, which recently opened in France.
Moore has been overdue for Oscar recognition for a whole time, so almost anything that accounted for her fifth nomination was going to lead to a win. Maybe Academy voters should have taken a lead from Cannes in picking out what that film would be.