Cannes Film Fest 1994: Year 47–Eastwood, Jury Politics and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

Cannes Film Fest 1994–For the fourth time over the last six years, the Cannes Film Festival conferred its top award, the Palme d’Or, on an American picture. Mind you, not just an ordinary American picture, but one described by French critics as “lowlife serenade.”

The winner, Quentin Tarantino’s energetic, showy Pulp Fiction was described by one French critic as “the American Graffiti of crime movies.”

A later article, based on a an interview with Tarantino and the cast in Cannes, will discuss Pulp Fiction, which was selected to open the prestigious New York Film Festival. The movie will be released by Miramax in late September.

One of the last 22 movies in competition to be screened, Tarantino’s salute to L.A.’s cool and crazy, marginal world, was undoubtedly the most eagerly awaited event at the festival–it was also the most controversial. Pulp Fiction was one of the few movies to generate heated debate among viewers right after its first press screening.

The announcement of the award at the closing ceremonies was greeted with cheers but also some boos. There were suggestions by some French commentators that the jury’s president, Clint Eastwood, favored an American movie, and that with his choice, the festival was turning its back on a tradition of honoring “arty” movies.

In his quiet, assured style, Eastwood brushed aside the allegations, claiming that he was bound by festival rules not to discuss the jury’s deliberations and votes. All the veteran star, who’s highly respected in France as an actor and director-auteur, said was: “It was a democratic decision. People thought it was original. I can’t say how I voted.”

Pulp Fiction certainly is original, though not to those familiar with Tarantino’s spectacular directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs, in l992, and his screenplay for True Romance, directed by Tony Scott. The new movie belongs to the same universe, albeit its issues and narrative structure more complex and, for a change, women feature more prominently. The ensemble is glorious, particularly John Travolta, in what can be described as a major comeback, Bruce Willis, in a fresh portrait, different from everything he has done, Uma Thurman, and perhaps most impressive of all Samuel L. Jackson (Do the Right Thing).

Cannes Festival director Gilles Jacob also dismissed the controversy over the prizes, denying that Cannes had any tradition to stick to. “There’s no law,” he elaborated, “we’ve always had some juries which go for more popular films or for more art films.” Still, the French influential newspaper “Le Quotidien” said that the Golden Palme had been “stolen,” or at least “skillfully negotiated.”

Pulp Fiction, a thriller mixing violence and humor, was seen by some critics as a typical market-oriented Hollywood product, at odds with such past winners as Best Intentions (l992), or last year’s co-winners, Jane Campion’s The Piano and Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine.

For those who resent the commercial viability and global domination of American movies, Tarantino’s victory was reminiscent of the unexpected crowning of Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies and videotape in l989, David Lynch’s Wild at Heart in l991, and the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink in l992, all low-budget, independent movies made by Hollywood outsiders.

Fans of Tarantino’s work stressed that, if anything, he was atypical of Hollywood, and that “Cannes hasn’t turned its back on its vocation, because Tarantino’s work is a parody of America.” “It’s Americana, rather than American, and it owes a lot to European directors,” said a British distributor who will release the film in UK.