Sunday, May 19, 2024

Looking Back On The 2004 Cannes Film Festival’s Competition Lineup Twenty Years Later

The competition lineup for any year’s Cannes Film Festival will be packed with wildly disparate movies. This collection of artistic films from the world’s greatest filmmakers is just numerous enough to ensure that not all these titles will inhabit the same genre, language, or even medium of expression. There will always be some eclectic qualities to the motion pictures at this event. However, in 2004, the competition titles for Cannes really went all out and were as bizarre as possible. The films vying for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 57th Cannes Film Festival included everything from Michael Moore’s controversial documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” to the Oscar-nominated “Shrek 2” to the Oscar-winning “The Motorcycle Diaries” by Walter Salles” to Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” to “Nobody Knows” from Hirokazu Kore-eda to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Tropical Malady” to “Clean” from Olivier Assayas and everything in between. A slew of prominent filmmakers were there, and many brought out titles that have twenty years later become iconic. Here is the lineup of feature films which competed for the Palme d’Or in 2004:

2046 – Wong Kar-wai
Clean – Olivier Assayas
The Consequences of Love – Paolo Sorrentino
The Edukators – Hans Weingartner
Exils – Tony Gatlif
Fahrenheit 9/11 – Michael Moore
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence – Mamoru Oshii
The Holy Girl – Lucrecia Martel
The Ladykillers – Joel and Ethan Coen
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers – Stephen Hopkins
Life Is a Miracle – Emir Kusturica
Look at Me – Agnès Jaoui
The Motorcycle Diaries – Walter Salles
Mondovino – Jonathan Nossiter
Nobody Knows – Hirokazu Kore-eda
Oldboy – Park Chan-wook
Shrek 2 – Andrew Adamson
Tropical Malady – Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Woman Is the Future of Man – Hong Sang-soo

Every slate of competition Cannes titles is a bit peculiar. But the 2004 slate really took the cake in how many incredibly different movies it shoved together into one collection. In breaking down why this roster of competition Cannes films was so especially memorable, we must address the ogre in the room. “Shrek 2” didn’t just screen at Cannes; it qualified to compete for the Palme d’Or. Giant gingerbreaded Mongo and sexy human Shrek had a chance of beating out Wong Kar-wai (“2046”) and Paolo Sorrentino (“The Consequences Of Love”) for that award, and you know what? It was wholly deserved. Also playing in competition that year was Mamoru Oshii’s anticipated follow-up to “Ghost In The Shell” with “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.”

The presence of these titles was quite historical, given that animated movies have often been flat-out ignored in the competition section at Cannes. Before 2024, only seven movies (including “Shrek 2” and “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”) had ever competed for the Palme d’Or. Two of those titles were at the 2004 edition of the festival, and it remains the only time that multiple animated films competed for the legendary prize in the same year. Exempting “Persepolis” competing for the Palme d’Or in 2007, these two 2004 features would also be the last animated titles to compete in competition at Cannes until this year’s 2024 edition of the festival where Academy Award-winner Michel Hazanavicius’s WWII Holocaust drama “The Most Precious of Cargoes” is set to have its world premiere. Historically speaking, the presence of these animated motion pictures alone made the 2004 Cannes competition slate more important.

However, the unique qualities of this diverse collection of movies weren’t just confined to the animated features. This was also the year several prolific filmmakers made their Cannes debut in competition, namely Paolo Sorrentino and Park Chan-wook. These weren’t the first major titles helmed by these notable artists. However, getting their films in the Cannes Competition lineup did lend extra notoriety to their careers and served as a launching pad for many of their other titles in the future. Park Chan-wook getting into this field for “Oldboy” was especially monumental since it marked the first time a Korean film was in the Cannes Competition lineup. Its historical inclusion helped pave the way for Korean cinema to become a staple of future Cannes Competition selections.

Speaking of big directors at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, that year’s competition selections also included new films from the Coen Bros. and Wong Kar-Wai (for “The Ladykillers” and “2046,” respectively). While Wong Kar-wai’s loose sequel to his previous films “Days of Being Wild” (1990) and “In the Mood for Love” (2000) had high expectations, his film received overall strong reviews while the Coen Bros. received some of the worst notices of their career for “The Ladykillers.” Both directors had been up for the Palme d’Or many times before, with Wong Kar-wai winning the Best Director Cannes prize for his 1997 masterpiece “Happy Together” and Joel Coen winning Best Director three times for “Barton Fink,” “Fargo” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” The Coen’s would later return to the extravagant French film festival with “No Country for Old Men” and their 2013 film “Inside Llewyn Davis” would go on to win the Grand Prix, while Wong Kar-wai would return with “My Blueberry Nights” in 2007.

Among so many notable films and filmmakers, it’s hard to imagine what could have emerged as the Palme d’Or winner. In 2024, many might assume something as lastingly impactful as “Oldboy” took home the trophy. Instead, the immensely popular documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11,” by Michael Moore, took home the Palme d’Or that year. This was a tremendous accomplishment on many fronts, including it being only the second time in the history of Cannes that a documentary took home the festival’s biggest prize. It also reflected how much the calamities of American politics were gripping every corner of global discourse circa. 2004. A documentary like “Fahrenheit 9/11” which lambasted the George W. Bush administration, struck a chord with Cannes voters by channeling a sense of pent-up rage shared by many around the world at the time of its release. That kind of fury would propel “Fahrenheit 9/11” to unprecedented box office success for a documentary when it opened in theaters in June 2004, hoping to impact the 2004 presidential election. Scoring that historic Palme d’Or win was a precursor to the greater pop culture domination “Fahrenheit 9/11” would secure in its general release.

Bestowing that win on “Fahrenheit 9/11” was a gaggle of judges for the Cannes Competition section so bizarre that they undoubtedly helped seal the legendary aura surrounding this edition of the festival. The jury consisted of names such as Quentin Tarantino (Jury President), Tsui Hark, Tilda Swinton, Kathleen Turner, and more. Though it’s amusing to imagine them all being in the same room, it’s also nifty to recall that such an unorthodox menagerie helped judge the winners of that year’s Cannes. The judges for this festival often came from all over the world, with Emmanuelle Béart hailing from France and Benoît Poelvoorde coming from Belgium, but the 2004 edition of the festival especially excelled in this area. Ultimately, “Oldboy” would snatch the Grand Prix, while Best Director would go to Tony Gatlif for “Exils.” Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri won Best Screenplay for “Look At Me” and acting prizes were bestowed upon Maggie Cheung for “Clean,” Yūya Yagira for “Nobody Knows,” and a special jury prize (the Prix du Jury) went to Irma P. Hall for “The Ladykillers.” Apichatpong Weerasethakul would also receive the Prix du Jury for his hypnotizing film, “Tropical Malady.”

That staggering level of variety in the judges and films presented helped give an extra special undercurrent to the 2004 edition of the Cannes Film Festival. This wasn’t just another smattering of arthouse films debuting in the star-studded French confines along the sea. It was an opportunity to witness cinema from all over the globe in an especially wide array of genres and mediums. This was the year when the Cannes Film Festival stood for letting films such as “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Shrek 2 “and “Oldboy” compete against one another. Where else are you going to see a film competition like that? In the twenty years that followed, many Cannes Competition lineups were certainly considered special, and perhaps this year’s will be considered such as well. But the 2004 roster was an awe-inspiring assortment of movies that only became more remarkable with the steady passage of time.

What do you think of this competition lineup from the 2004 Cannes Film Festival? Which film is your favorite? Do you think “Fahrenheit 9/11” was the right choice to win the Palme d’Or? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Lisa and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars & Film on her portfolio here

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