The Classics Shelf: Cannes ’82

Exploring the offerings of the 35th celebration on the Riviera

In the movies, people break out of prison and escape to freedom, or prove their innocence, or both. In real life, it turns out, people break out of prison to go to the movies. Such was the case when Yilmaz Güney, a Turkish actor of Kurdish descent who had been imprisoned in 1975 for shooting a judge, made a daring escape in the fall of 1981, made his way to Europe and arrived at the 35th Cannes Film Festival in time to see his film Yol (also known in English as The Road) screen to raves and win an eventual shared Palme d’Or in May. Güney, who was the most popular actor in his country before turning to directing, was fearless about facing down a government against which he was ideologically opposed He had previously been imprisoned on charges of “promoting communism” and harbouring anarchist students before the charge that got him into the most trouble. While behind bars, he did not stop making films, writing screenplays with detailed notes that were smuggled out and shot according to his instructions, Yol among them.

After having favoured grand, bold epics in the sixties (like The Leopard) and incisive period pieces in the seventies (The Go-Between, The Hireling), Cannes of the early eighties was in the mood for incisive, direct political narratives. The year before had seen Andrzej Wajda triumph with Man of Iron, a film that Poland couldn’t censor in time for its success at the festival. At Cannes ’82, the jury under Italian stage director, actor and politician Giorgio Strehler as president eventually decided to sharw the top prize with two subversive dramas that would both soon find themselves in hot water.  The other Palme winner was Missing, Costa-Gavras’s masterpiece about Beth and Ed Horman’s search throughout Pinochet’s Chile for journalist Charles Horman. Yol‘s prize would result in a heated debate about authorship (Şerif Gören, who executed those detailed notes, was awarded alongside Güney), an argument likely tamped down by Güney’s death due to stomach cancer barely two years later. Missing would go on to receive Oscar nominations for Best Picture and its lead stars, winning Best Adapted Screenplay before Universal Pictures had to pull it off video store shelves. It seems Washington didn’t like the film’s implication that they had supported Chile’s military coup (impossible to believe) and the lawsuit kept the film unavailable for home viewing for years (it’s in the Criterion Collection now).  Nancy Reagan told the filmmakers she liked the movie, but regretted that it had to have such a sad ending.

The festival began on May 14, starting things off with the 1916 D.W. Griffith film Intolerance and an out of competition screening of what would become the all-time box office juggernaut for more than a decade, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial. The Official Competition jury included filmmakers Jean-Jacques Annaud, Mrinal Sen, and Sidney Lumet, legendary Italian screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico, actor Geraldine Chaplin, author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and former French field hockey player (and official representative of the Film Image and Sound Commission) Claude Soule.

Outspoken political intentions were not limited to the Palme winners, though it does seem that the jury was in no mood for the more impressionist takes on the theme. Where Missing cut to the chase in a wholly unfettered and spontaneous manner, Lindsay Anderson’s Britannia Hospital achieved its aims through satire and Robert Kramer’s At Full Speed was too obscure (as was Godard’s Passion, but no one ever admits to finding Godard boring at a film festival unless they’re being questioned by the police). This many years later, the shared top prize doesn’t seem quite right, Yol‘s dramatic manipulations weaken a great deal of good acting and the film is too humorless to feel like anything other than a lecture. Having the presence of a filmmaker defying his government just by appearing at the festival must have been too exciting to ignore at the time, but the years haven’t been as kind to that film as they have to its fellow Palme recipient.

All reviews are by Bil Antoniou except where noted, with thanks to Matthew Simpson and Emma Badame for their generous contributions.




Identification of a Woman (Michelangelo Antonioni)

Titans of the past returning to the festival in triumph is a standard at Cannes, and this final masterwork by Antonioni is no exception, recalling, if not fully recreating, the strength of the days of L’Avventura and La Notte with its powerful visuals and pensive tone. It was the last full-length film he would complete after his debilitating stroke, after which he would make a series of shorts and one more feature, the underwhelming Beyond the Clouds in 1995. Tomas Milian plays a filmmaker who is reeling after his divorce from his wife and sublimates his fragile ego into obsessions with two women. The first, his doctor sister’s emotionally volatile patient, is passionate in the bedroom but feels almost like an imaginary presence the rest of the time, while the second, an actress with whom he has a more emotional connection, is sympathetic but brings up more self-reflection than is comfortable for him. Undoubtedly a film in which women exist more as ideas than as real people, it’s notable for being made during a time when Italian cinema was shamelessly profiting off sexual exploitation and female nudity. In Antonioni’s vision from the time, Daniela Silverio’s Mavi isn’t just seen having sex, she’s observed getting off. A subplot involving a blackmailer isn’t a complete success, even by Antonioni’s standards of mysterious vagueness, but some of the sequences are unforgettable, particularly one in which the characters get lost in a thick, highly symbolic fog. Descriptions of the main character “exploring erotic consciousness” are just code for Sex For Smart People, but the film is too sincere and sharply directed to come off as pretentious as it could. Despite its winning a prestigious award at the festival and playing to great acclaim, it had a short life after Cannes, allegedly dropped by its North American distributor thanks to Vincent Canby’s panning it at the New York Film Festival that fall. It didn’t receive a theatrical distribution on this side of the globe until 1996, then later found more of an audience (including myself) thanks to a DVD release by the Criterion Collection.
Award: 35th Anniversary Prize
Antonioni in Competition: L’Avventura (1960, Jury Prize), L’Eclisse (1962, Jury Prize), Blow-Up (1967, Palme winner), The Passenger (1975)


Missing (Costa-Gavras)

Sissy Spacek lives in an unnamed South American country where her husband has just been taken by military forces for unknown reasons. Within days, her conservative father-in-law (Jack Lemmon) flies in from the U.S. and joins her in scouring the entire country in search of his son. This fact-based, terrifying thriller succeeds thanks to Costa-Gavras’s uncompromising direction and top-notch performances by the two leads. A strong sense of foreigners in a foreign land makes for an even stronger sense of isolation and dread, but what really makes it perfection is its dead-on combination of the personal and political: Spacek and Lemmon argue politics as much as they bicker about their personal feelings (Lemmon always objected to their liberal ways), and one never overpowers the other. This is an unforgettable motion picture–the best of its year and one of the best of the decade.
Awards: Palme d’Or (tie), Best Actor (Jack Lemmon)
Costa-Gavras in Competition: Z (1969, Jury Prize), Special Section (1975, Best Director)


Moonlighting  (Jerzy Skolimowski)

Matthew Simpson: Four men attempt to figure out a way to sneak tools into London, construction workers who have flown there on tourist visas to remodel the recently purchased house of a Polish diplomat. The scheme seems simple enough: they can do the work for a fraction of the locals’ price, and their wages will still vastly surpass what they could earn at home in Poland. The crew speaks only Polish, with the exception of Jeremy Irons as Nowak, who speaks English and is thus tasked with all of the shopping, planning, and organising. With limited funds to pay for all the materials and the labour, he is under immense pressure to make sure the work proceeds at a steady pace, but when the government of Poland declares martial law in December–not only putting their loved ones in danger but limiting their ability to go home–he finds himself in a pressure cooker as he keeps this fact from the team and begins to shoplift to keep them fed.  Moonlighting is a film about many things, but primarily about isolation. The men are isolated in the house they are remodelling, and Nowak is perhaps even more so as he is trapped not only with men who grow to resent him but also in a land where he speaks the language but doesn’t understand the people. It’s a masterful performance from Irons, performed almost silently and in voiceover. He’s able to convey the anxiety, despair, and paranoia that come with weaving a complex web of lies and deceit with body language and facial expressions. It’s an effective and affecting performance that the audience can’t help but get caught up in. Tense, dramatic, and at times darkly funny, definitely one not to miss.
Awards: Best Screenplay
Skolimowski in Competition: King Queen Knave (1972), The Shout (1978, Special Jury Prize), Success Is the Best Revenge (1984), Torrents Of Spring (1989), EO (2022, Jury Prize)


That Night in Varennes (Ettore Scola)

Scola was the most experienced veteran at the festival this year, and his adaptation of Catherine Rihoit’s novel (published the same year) marked his fifth time vying for the Palme. He never won, although he had won Best Director for Ugly, Dirty and Bad in 1976 and Best Screenplay for La Terrazza in 1980. His sumptuous, lengthy but absorbing period film stars a rich ensemble of celebrated European actors including Hanna Schygulla, Jean-Louis Barrault, Marcello Mastroianni, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Louis Trintingant, Caterina Boratto and Andrea Ferreol in a fictionalized account of notable late eighteenth-century figures placed in a shared circumstance during an important historic moment (call it the One Night in Miami of its time, if you like). It has been two years since the storming of the Bastille, and a hired coach drives out of Paris carrying the likes of American author Thomas Paine (Harvey Keitel, dubbed by a French actor), an opera singer, and an incognito noblewoman and her hairdresser. Novelist Restif de la Bretonne (usually thought of as a less shocking Marquis de Sade in France) follows its departure and soon has his suspicions confirmed: the unnamed woman is lady in waiting to Marie Antoinette and the coach that left before theirs was carrying the King and Queen in their attempt to evade arrest. Giacomo Casanova joins their fold and the interactions of the ensemble cross back and forth as their journey progresses towards Varennes and a date with destiny. Future Oscar-winning set and costume designers Dante Ferretti and Gabriella Pescucci bring the period to life with depth and a feeling of soiled beauty, it never pushes hard on realism but rather brings the feeling of reading an intelligent, romantic page-turner to life, and the awe-inspiring cast make the lengthy running time go by in a flash.
Scola in Competition: A Drama of Jealousy (1970), Ugly, Dirty and Bad (1976), A Special Day (1977), La Terrazza (1980), Passione d’Amore (1981), The Family (1987), Splendor (1989)


The Return of the Soldier (Alan Bridges)

Bridges only made a handful of feature films in his career, spending more time directing for television, but when he reached the big screen, the results were always wonderful. The three films for which he’s most known rearrange (but do not destroy) the British class system during and after the first World War, and nine years after winning the Palme d’Or for The Hireling in a shared victory with Jerry Schatzberg’s The Scarecrow, it’s possible that the jury felt this film was too familiar in subject and tone to reward him a second time. (Of course, by saying this, I’m assuming that the jury was made up of people who had even watched previous Cannes films, which is never reliably the case.) Alan Bates returns from the battlefield shell-shocked and unable to remember his wife (Julie Christie), who throws endless tantrums at the notion that there is any such thing as psychological damage to an otherwise unblemished body. While Bates’ cousin, an outstanding Ann-Margret, applies a gentle touch to his trauma, Christie insists that he is pretending to forget her and flies into further rages when it turns out that he has an old girlfriend on his mind, a love of his past who is now a middle-class married woman (Glenda Jackson) to whom he is not spoken in twenty years. The debate that arises, then, is whether or not he is best left in his mind’s current garden of innocence, the result of what he has seen in battle, or if the unavoidable pain of real life must be faced in order for him to live a fuller life.  The performances are all magnificent and the interplay of these characters as delicate and lived-in as the gorgeous furniture and rich lighting. The film has been unjustly forgotten thanks in part to never really finding its way in its own time, either. Empty-handed after the festival, it received one BAFTA nomination (for Frank Finlay as Jackson’s good-natured husband, oddly enough) and then didn’t get a release in North American theatres for two years thanks to a legal dispute over its ownership (likely the result of its having lost financing midway through production and rescued by other investors).
Bridges in Competition: The Hireling (1973, Palme d’Or winner)




Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog)

Herzog’s mad film about a passionate man’s mad dream of bringing opera to the Amazon jungle is probably better in description and, possibly, more enjoyable in the superb Les Blank documentary Burden of Dreams. It’s a fascinating and unique story based on the true tale of a failed nineteenth century businessman who takes in a performance of Enrico Caruso and falls madly in love with the entertainment. He then believes it essential that an opera house be built in Iquitos, Peru, where he lives. To raise the money needed to achieve his goal, he gets into the rubber business, convincing his brothel madam friend (played by a luminous Claudia Cardinale) to fund the purchase of a boat that he will take to a remote parcel of land that has been assigned to him by the colonial government. Getting there is a challenge given that the path of the river will take him through hostile native territory, so Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski) decides to stop his journey at a point where two rivers practically meet and drag the boat over a muddy mountain to get it to the other side. Herzog’s love of curious individuals has rarely found a better subject, a man whose vision is as unexpected as its outcome. The filmmaker allows the experience to play out with such quiet, almost reverential detail that belies the insanity that Blank’s film revealed was ongoing behind the scenes. The shots of endless jungle inhabited by stoic, communally generous Indigenous characters is hilariously broken up by the sight of Kinski’s immense eyes and ferocious mouth, while the texture of many of its images, made well before computer graphic technology would have made them so much safer to accomplish, is awe-inspiring. All that said, it’s really long and not all those who dare to watch it will make it to the end.
Award: Best Director (Herzog)
Herzog in Competition: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1975; Grand Prix, FIPRESCI Prize, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury), Woyzeck (1979, Best Supporting Actress – Eva Mattes), Where the Green Ants Dream (1984)


The Night of the Shooting Stars (Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani)

The jury wasn’t going to give the Tavianis another Palme so soon after their last exploration of peasant life in rural, period Italy, Pedro Padrone, won them the prize, but the strength of this film’s best moments earned them the second place award before, shockingly, their absence from the competition until more than a decade later. On the night of San Lorenzo, when it is said that wishes made on shooting stars come true, a woman narrates to her sleeping baby a tale from her own childhood, when she was six years old living in the Nazi-occupied village of San Martino. The Germans have marked a number of houses for destruction and tell the locals to hole up in the village cathedral to stay safe, but one member of the community doesn’t trust their intentions. Those willing to follow him trek through the countryside towards the approaching American army, while those who stay behind prove the paranoia true (though one particularly violent incident, long thought an atrocity of the German army, turned out to be a mistake of the Americans). For the most part, the film is the familiar combination of hard-edged realism and odd eccentricity that marks the Tavianis’ works, but the climax, a gunfight in the wheatfields, is its pièce de résistance and well worth waiting for. What you thought until this point was going to be a softer, hands-off examination of the worst memories of the second World War comes to collect in this violent and devastating conclusion, after which the characters find their much-deserved grace.
Awards: Grand Jury Prize, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury
Tavianis in Competition: Padre Padrone (Palme winner, 1977), Fiorile (1993)


Shoot the Moon (Alan Parker)

Emma Badame: Before there was Marriage Story, there was Shoot the Moon. An intimate look at the disintegration of a long-term relationship, and how it affects their family of four daughters, it’s a film that is equal parts hard to watch and hard to look away from. Diane Keaton (as Faith) and Albert Finney (as George) earned rave reviews when the film was released back in 1982 and it’s not hard to see why. Both give layered, nuanced performances and neither one is afraid to be unlikeable. In fact, it’s hard to see elements of yourself in their character’s choices, both questionable and well-meaning. Finney, in particular, manages to simmer with rage and make a host of wrong-headed decisions, yet manages to keep the audience largely in tune with George, despite the growing resentment of his daughters. With capable direction from the late Alan Parker, Shoot the Moon contains a few scenes that will seem particularly wrong-footed to modern audiences–and may have to contemporary audiences too–but the raw, emotional performances at its core bring a timelessness to its themes and keeps it effective even 40-plus years later.
Parker in Competition: Bugsy Malone (1976), Midnight Express (1978), Birdy (1985, Grand Prize of the Jury), Come See the Paradise (1990)




Godard’s Passion (Jean-Luc Godard)

Go ahead and listen to the critics who rave about this self-indulgent drivel by Jean-Luc Godard, for I suspect that they didn’t understand it, either. Isabelle Huppert is adorable as a factory worker who resists being fired by her boss (Michel Piccoli), who is himself canoodling with the lovely Hanna Schygulla in the hotel that she owns. Both women are drawn to a filmmaker (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) who has abandoned the solidarity movement in Poland to come and make a listless film that brings to life the classics of the visual art world. He’s having difficulty finding the inspiration to make anything worthy, while the maids at Schygulla’s hotels are happily quitting their jobs to be nude models on his set. No one can deny the obvious exuberance with which Godard directs from behind the camera, and the performances and cinematography are excellent, but the infuriating, jumbled-up plot is the last word in pretentious European art house cinema and will drive you completely mad.
Awards: Technical Grand Prize (Raoul Coutard, for cinematography)
Godard in Competition: Every Man for Himself (1980), Detective (1985), Aria (1987), Nouvelle Vague (1990), In Praise of Love (2001), Goodbye to Language (2014, Jury Prize), The Image Book (2018, Palme d’or Spéciale)


Hammett (Wim Wenders)

As of now, Wenders is the director in the 1982 festival with the most appearances in Official Competition. His 2023 film Perfect Days made for his ninth time at bat.  American Zoetrope produced his Hollywood debut and the troubled production history was already part of the narrative by the time it arrived at the festival, with rumours of his being replaced or replacing someone else swirling for years to follow. According to the internet, that venerable source of cold, hard data, the truth of the matter is that Wenders and Francis Ford Coppola had a fraught relationship but, ultimately, Wenders directed both of two versions that were shot, the second (with Marilu Henner and Peter Boyle replacing previous cast members) screening for the Cannes jury and eventually released commercially. The final result is a disaster, a well-dressed tribute to forties film noir that looks exactly right (including the self-consciously artificial sets) but whose narrative leaves a great deal to be desired. Frederic Forrest is well cast as author Dashiell Hammett in a fictionalized adventure about the writer finding inspiration when a friend asks him to look into a missing Chinatown sex worker. She turns out, to no one’s surprise, to be connected to the higher powers that run San Francisco, who take advantage of the lives of those struggling in its seedy underbelly. The ending is satisfying but the whole thing is so excruciatingly boring, and likely the jury felt the same considering that the film left the Riviera without a single citation.
Wenders in Competition: Kings of the Road (1976, FIPRESCI Prize), The American Friend (1977), Paris, Texas (1984; Palme d’Or winner, FIPRESCI Prize, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury), Wings of Desire (1987, Best Director), Faraway, So Close (1993, Grand Prize), The End of Violence (1997), Don’t Come Knocking (2005), Palermo Shooting (2008), Perfect Days (2023; Best Actor – Koji Yakusho, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury)


Smithereens (Susan Seidelman)

Some sources label this the first American indie to play in the Official Competition; if this isn’t true, it’s at least certain that few would have made it onto the slate before this. Seidelman, who would come to define the downtown New York eighties aesthetic with the later, more popular Desperately Seeking Susan and Making Mr. Right, staked her claiming on defining the time and place with this dark but energetic debut. Susan Berman is daringly anti-heroic as a music industry wannabe who wanders the urban blight of Manhattan thinking that she’s making strides at breaking into the business. What she’s really doing, though, is screwing over the nice guy who has just swept into town from Montana while giving too much of her time to a low-life street hustler she believes is her ticket to the big time.  All this while daily struggling to find a place to sleep, despite telling everyone she’s got “a million and one” places she can crash. It’s not a captivating film but it does capture a moment, a city that no longer exists and a story (co-written by Seidelman with future Philadelphia Oscar nominee Ron Nyswaner) that holds its characters responsible for their foolish self-denials without judging their human struggle. This film, which received no prizes from the jury, remains to date Seidelman’s only opportunity to compete for the Palme.


The Road (Yol) (Şerif Gören, Yilmaz Güney)

To watch this film without the context of its presentation at the festival, with a director fresh from a prison break in attendance and a lively argument in play about authorship, does rob a great deal of the experience. Both Palme winners deal with people surviving in societies under repressive regimes but, this many years later, it’s obvious which film is the superior, as Costa-Gavras’s Missing doesn’t feel as dramatically manipulated. A group of men are released from prison on temporary leave and undergo a variety of experiences on their time off: one is immediately arrested for losing his leave documents, another goes home to learn that his wife went to work in a brothel in his absence and is due for execution. A man returns to his village near the Syrian border to find himself at the heart of dangerous conflict and another goes to take his wife and son from in-laws who hold his brother-in-law’s death against him. Each narrative tells a tale of the country’s inability to recognize its citizens’ humanity, trapped as the masses are under obsessions over pure, religious morality, but it’s all moral finger-wagging and features very little humour to offset its dramatic, if sympathetic, portraits of souls mid-struggle.
Awards: Palme d’Or, FIPRESCI Prize, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Special Mention




At Full Speed (Robert Kramer)

The only time that American ex-patriate Kramer, who made most of his films in France, competed for the Palme, it was with a film that’s barely more than sixty-minutes. And yet it feels endless thanks to colourless characters and a real screed of a plot. Set in a roller rink brimming with neon lights and disco music, it surrounds a couple who are competing in a roller derby with the hopes of raising money to make their way to Chicago. A shady stranger appears with the option of helping them make their money by pimping the female half of the couple out, and the temptation to agree to this venture is strong. Kramer comes off as a lesser Godard with his almost essay-level style of storytelling and his use of prostitution as the ultimate in capitalist commodification, but none of his ideas are provocative and the performances can barely turn these figures into human beings.


Britannia Hospital (Lindsay Anderson)

A British hospital about to celebrate its 500th anniversary, having been commissioned into existence by none other than Elizabeth I, finds itself threatened by disaster on the day that a member of the royal family (never named, but resembling the Queen Mother) is due to visit. Outside the hospital’s gates, support staff hold placards objecting to the presence of private care patients, while inside the building, the kitchen staff refuse to serve the paying patients. One of said patients is a controversial African dictator who has inspired an increasingly dangerous mob outside the gates. Next to the old building, to make things so much more bizarre, a state-of-the-art new laboratory is being run by a mad scientist who is looking to put together his own Frankenstein project, a situation that Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) walks into and, to put it mildly, comes to regret. Travis is a character appearing for the third time in an Anderson film, following 1969’s Palme d’Or-winning If…. and the ambitious but flawed O Lucky Man. Following its release at Cannes, where it received no prizes, Britannia Hospital played to indifferent audiences and mixed reviews and it’s easy to see why: Anderson has a lot to say about the National Health Service and the British public’s ambivalent attitude towards class, and the film does its best to have a generous view of left and right by being equally satirical of both, but what it’s missing is generosity. Paddy Chayefsky’s feat of taking modern-day political realities apart via a comedy set in the medical world, The Hospital, was also done far too broadly but with much more humour, while Anderson’s unpleasant parable has a hectoring, cruel air that leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth by the end. Besides this, none of the characters ever really form into whole people, and the general feeling is vagueness.
Anderson in Competition: This Sporting Life (1963), If…. (1969, Palme winner), O Lucky Man! (1973)


Day of the Idiots (Werner Schroeter)

Carole Bouquet enjoyed success as a Bond girl the same year she shot this high art experiment by Wenders’ fellow New German Cinema colleague Schroeter. Never one to comfort his viewers with an experience heavy with narrative (except, perhaps, his surprisingly potent Kingdom of Naples), Schroeter presents an excoriating treatise on the nature of psychological sanity with his tale of an emotionally unstable woman who checks herself into an asylum. What she finds is a contained microcosm where the line between health and madness is as tenuous for the staff as it is for the inmates. Wonderfully shot, but marred by bad overdubbing, it’s a film that is, much like a great deal of Schroeter’s work, better appreciated as a museum exhibition in motion than arthouse entertainment, but there are moments of directorial finesse to be gleaned and cherished from it.
Schroeter in Competition: Malina (1991)


These Films also Played in Competition But Were Not Reviewed for this Article


Another Way (Karoly Makk)

Awards: Best Actress (Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak), FIPRESCI Prize
Makk in Competition: Liliomfi (1955), Love (1971), Cat’s Play (1974), Egy Erkolcsos Ejszaka (1978), Az Utolso Kezirat (1987)


Invitation to Travel (Peter Del Monte)

Awards: Best Artistic Contribution (Bruno Nuytten)


Sandstorm (Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina)

Lakhdar-Hamina In Competition: Rih Al Awras (1967), Chronicle of the Years of Fire (1975, Palme winner), La Dernière Image (1986)


Cecilia (Humberto Solas)


Island of Loves (Paulo Rocha)


Sweet Inquest on Violence (Gerard Guerin)

The True Story of Ah Q (Fan Cen)