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Isabelle Huppert, Mariachi and a History Lesson: Cannes Celebrates Its 70th Year With a Lively Night

The festival saluted its legacy with a lavish evening that covered every decade of its existence.

Isabelle Huppert at the Cannes Film Festival 70th anniversary celebration

Isabelle Huppert
70th Anniversary Ceremony

LANGSDON/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

The Cannes Film Festival aims to show great movies, but it also knows how to throw a good party. That much was evident late at night in the waning hours of a glitzy dinner on Tuesday night at Port Pierre Canto to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the festival, when Salma Hayek surprised guests with a mariachi band.

The Mexican film luminaries in the room — including “Three Amigos” Guillermo Del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarriuto and Alfono Cuaron as well as actors Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal — all crowded around a single table to lead a boisterous crowd in numerous songs. They were joined by guests from all over the world, from directors Michel Hazanavicius and Paolo Sorrentino to Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker, 88-year-old French New Wave legend Agnes Varda and Hayek, who eventually led a conga line to the stage while shooting an iPhone video of the whole affair.

Cannes director Thierry Fremaux sang along and pulled as many guests into the circle as he could. Sitting at an adjacent table, Leonardo DiCaprio begged off.  “Too many cameras,” he said. (And indeed, the smartphones were ubiquitous.)

It was the Cannes party experience in a nutshell — star-studded, elegant, and yet prone to wild and unexpected bursts of activity that wind up documented from every angle — and the ultimate cap to a night devoted to the festival’s legacy. Earlier, the A-list guests crowded into the Palais des Festivals for a jubilant ceremony to salute the big Cannes anniversary. Co-hosted by Cannes fixture Isabelle Huppert and Fremaux, the night was a mixture of uplifting speeches and clip reels from across the festival’s seven decades. At the end of the evening, dozens of familiar faces joined Fremaux onstage, including Nicole Kidman and David Lynch, to sing “Happy Birthday” to the festival in French.

Here are some of the other highlights.

Nothing Sugarcoated

In Huppert’s opening monologue, she listed a range of filmmakers and actors who have left their mark on Cannes over the years. Multiple former Palme d’Or winners were in the crowd, having posed for a dense photo call earlier in the day. Huppert acknowledged Jane Campion, whose “Top of the Lake: China Girl” screened that afternoon, as the only woman who had ever won the Palme d’Or. “Seventy Palmares but only one for a woman,” Huppert said. “No comment.” The crowd then gave Campion a standing ovation.

Jane CampionAnniversary Soiree, 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 23 May 2017

Jane Campion at the Cannes anniversary celebration

James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

It was one of several moments where it was clear that the controversies and shortcomings of the festival would be a part of the ceremony as much as its merits. Hitting a topical note as she recalled Gene Hackman’s many films that had played at Cannes, she said, “American filmmakers, bring us Gene Hackman back any way necessary. Even Netflix!” As the crowd laughed, she added, “Don’t tweet that, please.”

Later, the festival screened clips of famous controversies at the festival, even acknowledging Lars Von Trier’s infamous Nazi comments during a press conference for “Melancholia” that led him to be declared “persona non grata” at the festival in 2011. The montage also included a clip of Luis Buñuel speaking about backlash to “Viridiana” (“My intentions are never completely innocent”), Abel Ferrara fighting with the press during a conference for his “Body Snatchers” remake in 1993, and Quentin Tarantino winning the Palme for “Pulp Fiction” as he’s heckled by one woman as he took the stage. In response, Tarantino gave her the finger. That clip was followed by a lengthy montage of other actors giving the finger to the cameras from the red carpet.

Life-Changing Experiences

Paolo Sorrentino is a Cannes regular, having served on the jury and shown multiple films in competition, including Oscar winner “The Great Beauty.” But he recalled that his first experience at Cannes was a much humbler one. “I thought I’d become a famous director,” the filmmaker said, reading from a prepared speech in English. Instead, he continued, he found himself meeting with a producer who wanted to hire Sorrentino to make a movie about cows. “Back at my room, I realized I wasn’t happy,” he said. “I didn’t want to make a film about cows. But I realized Cannes is like a cow — a beautiful animal that keeps producing fresh milk. The films are the milk.”

Huppert set the stage for a much bigger way in which Cannes has changed filmmakers’ lives. Introducing one of two montages featuring the Palme d’Or winners over the years, the actress said, “It’s a game, but the awards have helped filmmakers make their next films, from Ingmar Bergman to Park Chan-wook. [‘Loveless’ director] Andrey Zyagintsev said recently, ‘Cannes is my home.’”

At that point, Fremaux introduced a clip reel of Cannes winners giving memorable speeches, from Orson Welles (for “Othello”) to Roberto Benigni (for “Life Is Beautiful”), in which he bounced to the stage and kissed jury president Martin Scorsese’s feet. Other notable Cannes winners seen in the montage: Roman Polanski, Abbas Kiarostami, Xavier Dolan and Ken Loach, who was shown giving an acceptance speech in which the social-realist filmmaker said, “Another world is possible, even necessary.”

Festival president Pierre Lescure said that he found the awards ceremony at the end of the festival especially memorable because winners are called back in advance but not informed of which prizes they’ve won. “I’ve experienced an emotion second to none,” he said. “It’s deeply moving to see the actors and directors who know they’ve got something, so they climb to the top of the stairs. How far? They don’t know. These artists aren’t totally themselves anymore.”

Movies You Can Care About

Towards the end of the ceremony, last year’s Best Actor winner Vincent Lindon (who stars in this year’s Cannes biopic “Rodin”) took the stage to address the activist potential of the filmmaking process. Following up on a politically-tinged speech about movie monsters from Guillermo Del Toro, Lindon’s speech was a rousing moment in the room. “Each of us can change the world,” he said. “A great filmmaker has this power. Actors can be selected by those who challenge what is generally accepted…what unites all these directors is that they love, hope, rise up and impose new and noble visions of the world. We can’t melt into our characters. Film creates a world in harmony with our desires.”

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