BY SHAMAN MOMOH
This year’s edition of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival kicks off today, May 11, in France.
Nollywood will not be represented this year as Cannes is an invitation-only and highly-selective film festival which does not have many Black films screened. However, across the globe, there is a curiosity by film buffs as to what film will win the coveted Palme d’Or this year.
These are the black films that have won the festival’s biggest prize so far.
1 – The first diaspora film to win the Palme d’Or was Marcel Camus’ 1959 classic Black Orpheus (also winner of the 1960 Academy Award for best foreign-language film). The film is loosely based on Orpheus and Eurydice of Greek mythology, with Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during Carnival season, as the backdrop. Orpheus falls in love with Eurydice, as her ex-lover, disguised as the Angel of Death, shows up and kills Eurydice. To reclaim his lost love, Orpheus enters “Hell” (the Rio morgue in the film) and uses supernatural methods to revive the dead girl.
2 – Chronicle of the Years of Fire, a 1975 Algerian film directed by Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina. It wasn’t his first Cannes selection, and wouldn’t be his last. However it was the only one to win the Palme d’Or.
Like Gillo Pontecorvo’s seminal classic Battle Of Algiers, an engrossing account of Algeria’s war for independence from the French, Chronicle of the Years of Fire also tackles the Algerian war of independence (a common theme in Algerian cinema over the years – specifically the relationship between the country and its former colonial power, France). Although, unlike Pontecorvo’s film which places the audience right on the front-lines of the war, Lakhdar-Hamina’s much quieter drama depicts the war as seen through the eyes of a peasant.
3 – Mike Leigh’s tangled family drama classic, Secrets And Lies won the 1996 Palme d’Or. It stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste as young black optometrist who, following the death of her adoptive parents, decides to track down her biological mother, whom she later discovers is a white woman. Add in the utter chaos that is the family life of the mother, and you’ve got much fodder for drama.
Brenda Blethyn’s performance as Cynthia, the white mother, won her Best Actress at Cannes. The film was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, but won none.