• Festivals

Cannes: The Glamour, The Films, The History

1995 Cannes Red Carpet Rollout

On May 16, 2023, the 76th Cannes Film Festival will kick off. It is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world but few are aware that it came into being as a result of Hitler and Mussolini’s interference with the Venice Film Festival.


In 1937, Benito Mussolini meddled with the Venice Film Festival’s jury’s selection of the winner, ensuring that the French Pacifist film, La Grande Illusion, did not take home a prize. A year later, both Mussolini and Hitler brought pressure to bear on the Venice Film Festival award outcomes, according to Wikipedia. Mussolini overruled the Venice jury’s preference, awarding the Coppa Mussolini (Mussolini Cup) for the Best Film to the Italian war film, Luciano Serra, Pilot, produced under the supervision of Mussolini’s son.


That same year, Hitler engineered the Coppa Mussolini for the Best Foreign Film to be awarded to Olympia, a German documentary about the Berlin 1936 Summer Olympics, produced in association with the Nazi Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Documentaries were not even considered in that category.


In 1939, Cannes was selected by the French, with the support of the British and American jury members, to create Le Festival International du Film. MGM literally shipped American stars Cary Grant, Mae West and Tyrone Power – to name but a few – to the French Riviera to participate.

1959 Cary Grant and Kim Novak, Cannes

Alas, WWII broke out and the festival was postponed until 1946, but the tradition of big-name stars was established, helping to make the Cannes Film Festival into a brand that embodies glamor and gravitas, with first looks at many of the films that would still be in focus come awards season.


The 1950s cemented the French Riviera as the place where stars play. The Cannes Film Festival became synonymous with glamor and beauty, attracting both American and European luminaries with names like Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly and Sophia Loren, the latter holding the position of Jury President in 1966, a year after Olivia de Havilland broke the gender barrier and became the first woman to hold the office.

1955 Grace Kelly in CannesSophia Loren, 1955 Cannes

The 60s heightened the frisson of Cannes as Sammy Davis Jr., Mia Farrow, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate graced the beachside playground where movie moguls made deals and the parties extended into the early morning.

1968 Mia Farrow, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, Rosemary

The Palais des Festivals, which was constructed on the seaside of the Croisette in 1949, has become celebrated for the famous names photographed at the launch of their films. But it is the Palais des Festivals et des Congres built in 1983 – a much larger edifice with a theater of plush red seats and a striking red carpet that comes to mind when talking of current-day Cannes. It is here, on its endless stairs, that dramatic images are captured as stars pause for the paparazzi before entering the hallowed theater for world premieres.

Julia Roberts and George Clooney 69th CannesJulia Roberts 2016

The gravitas of the festival is ensured by awarding prizes in a number of categories: the Critic’s Prize celebrates original and audacious content. The Special Jury Prize is awarded by the official Cannes Jury. The Palme d’Or replaced the Grand Prix du Festival in 1955 and is awarded to the director of the winning film, presented in a case of pure red Moroccoan leather and lined with white suede. The Camera d’Or is awarded for the Best First Film of all of the official categories. In 1978, Un Certain Regard became the category of non-competitive films.


The blueprint of parties and business that began at the Cannes Film Festival’s inception continues today with the plage being converted into ‘private access only’ expanses where movies are sold, stars are made, and deals are brokered during the day. At night they become pulsating places of premiere after-parties, where big names take to a stage for live performances and the models of the era mingle with movie stars.

Cate Blanchett

But lest you think it all froth, Cannes has launched films that have become part of a movie fan’s vernacular. Pulp Fiction (1994), Taxi Driver (1976) and Ben-Hur (1959) are just some of the classics that were launched at Cannes.


This year Michael Douglas will receive an Honorary Palme d’Or and Leonardo DiCaprio is slated to attend for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. Sean Penn, Quentin Tarantino, Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore are just some of the other stars that will add luster to an already bright marquee in 2023.


Make no mistake, Cannes is not just for the arthouse film. The blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick premiered at Cannes last year, and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will debut this year.


The little movie also gets a spotlight. A few years ago, an unknown woman director was the talk of Cannes with The Rider. Chloé Zhao would go on to become a Golden Globe-winning director for Nomadland and also take home the Oscar in the same category. In 2022, director Charlotte Wells debuted as a force to be reckoned with for her excellent film Aftersun, which ultimately gave Paul Mescal an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Relative newcomer, Austin Butler, became a household name when Elvis premiered at Cannes. He went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Actor – Drama. One wonders which star will be born in the flash of the Cannes spotlight this year?


As the Festival de Cannes kicks off on May 16, 2023, return to catch the glamor and red-carpet fashion that we will be posting every day.