It’s really odd thinking that the Cannes International Film Festival, known for rewarding the very best films in the world, has never awarded some important directors with the biggest prize, Palme d’Or.
This list includes artists who have made impact with their films, have been recognized -some of them might even have written cinematic history- but none of them has actually won Palme d’Or.
1. Jean-Luc Godard
Godard had been one of the front-runners of the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague). Being known for breaking the rules of classic cinema, as it was known until the 1960s, he is responsible for some true masterpieces, which are being studied all over the world. À bout de soufflé (1960), Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux (1962) or Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965) are just some of his most excellent films.
Nevertheless, a person like him, a person who has also offered a really big number of films (131 until now), has been nominated seven times for Palme d’Or, but has won none. Although, he has been awarded with the Jury Prize at the 67th Cannes International Film Festival, for his film Adieu au langage (2014) and some can argue that his latest movies don’t concern anyone, nobody can deny that Godard is one of the most important parts of cinematic history.
2. Wong Kar-Wai
Wong Kar-Wai has been characterized as a visionary director for his unique, highly stylised and emotionally resonant films. Who can really resist to the vibrant, painful and deeply nostalgic “wish you were(n’t) here” sense of Happy Together (1997)? Who cannot see the hopeless, seductive romance of the In the Mood for Love (2000)?
Having been nominated four times for Palme d’Or and having won the award for Best Director at the 50th Cannes International Film Festival is the minimum recognition for such an auteur. Kar-Wai’s films can be considered not only as cinematic poetry, but also as an accessible and truthful way to find answers about love.
3. Park Chan-wook
Chan-wook Park was put on the map with his really popular, violent, but sensitive film Oldboy (2003). At the 56th Cannes Festival Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy was clearly something of a favourite with Jury President Quentin Tarantino that year, landing the Grand Prize of the Jury.
As a result, Palme d’Or went to Michael Moore’s Bush-baiting Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). It is certain that Oldboy can be seen as “pulpier” than most Cannes winners, but it is also more vital and surprising than anything that year – including Moore’s messy, scattershot polemic.
Apart from this arguably unfair loss, Chan-wook Park has been nominated another two times, with his last film The Handmaiden (2016) not only losing Palme d’Or but shockingly being snubbed by the Oscars too. It is pretty reasonable to say that Chan-wook is one strong example of a director that has never won the Palme d’Or but really should.
4. Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Hou is very justly considered as a leading figure in the cinematic world. It is not a coincidence that he was voted “Director of the Decade” for the 1990s in a poll of American and international critics put together by The Village Voice and Film Comment.
His latest film The Assassin (2015) won the Best Director Award at the 68th Cannes Film Festival and was characterized by many as a masterful painting. It is a fact that Hou has made only highly regarded works during his successful career, such as A City of Sadness (1989), The Puppetmaster (1993) and Flowers of Shanghai (1998).
The 70-year-old director has been nominated seven times for Palme d’Or and his films, through time, have been commercially successful too. Consider also that of the ten films that Hsiao-Hsien Hou directed between 1980 and 1989, seven received best film or best director awards from prestigious international films festivals in Venice, Berlin, Hawaii, and the Festival of the Three Continents in Nantes.
In a 1988 worldwide critics’ poll, Hou was championed as “one of the three directors most crucial to the future of cinema”, but it is also a fact that he could never “seduce” with his films the Jury of Cannes Festival, so to win Palme d’Or.
5. Yorgos Lanthimos
Among other Greek directors who revived Greek Cinema in the last years, such as Athina Rachel Tsangari, Lanthimos is considered the “patriarch” of the Greek Weird Wave Cinema. His international career actually launched with his film Dogtooth (2009), which won the Award of the Youth and Un Certain Regard at the 62nd Cannes Festival and nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards.
Lanthimos’ following film, Alps (2011), was also critically successful, winning Golden Osella at Venice Film Festival. This year he is experiencing a phenomenal critical and commercial success with The Lobster (2015) which was nominated for Palme d’Or (and won Queer Palm and Jury Prize) at Cannes and for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars.
Lanthimos is not an “unlucky” or “underprivileged” director as most of the other filmmakers of this list. But he is definitely a promising one. It is true that his presence at the Cannes Festival has not been so frequent yet. Although, it seems inevitable that Lanthimos will play an important role, not only in the Festival’s history, but also in cinematic history, in general, with his originality keeping bursting into people’s heart.