Sure, there was the international premiere of ”Shrek 2.” The reunion of Brad and Jennifer on the red carpet. The usual gaggle of champagne-guzzling stars busily upstaging each other. But by May 23, it was obvious that the 2004 Cannes film festival belonged to one man and one movie: Michael Moore and ”Fahrenheit 9/11.”
The phenomenon started a week before he picked up his grand prize. Moore had been on the Cote d’Azur for what seemed like all of five minutes before he found a rally to attend, grabbing a bullhorn and telling striking local actors and technicians that ”I’m here to stand in solidarity with the workers of France!” Next, he held court at the glittery Vanity Fair party at the Hotel du Cap. Only after that came the official screening of ”Fahrenheit,” his blistering look at the Bush administration and Iraq, which was met with a seemingly endless standing ovation. Then? Well, then Moore went home.
He wouldn’t be there long: Only two days later, the call came that he should return to Cannes immediately for the awards ceremony. And the Palme d’Or was his.
”I’m at a loss for words,” said the visibly shaken director at a party in his honor. ”We had this tremendous Cannes experience with ”Bowling for Columbine,” and I questioned whether we should have come because, you know, lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.”
This time, it did. Giving out the honors was a jury headed by Quentin Tarantino – who added a common touch by schmoozing with fans over pizza and checking out late-night screenings on the beach. He was joined by fellow judges Tilda Swinton, Hong Kong director Tsui Hark, Finnish critic Peter von Bagh, Belgian comic actor Benoit Poelvoorde, actress Emmanuelle Beart, and fellow Americans Kathleen Turner, writer Edwidge Danticat, and director Jerry Schatzberg. And lucky them: They had their pick of excellent films. The other competition ranged from the big (”The Ladykillers,” costarring Jury Prize winner Irma P. Hall) to the small (”Look at Me,” which took home Best Screenplay, and ”Exils,” for which Tony Gatlif won Best Director); the shockingly late (Wong Kar-wai’s ”2046,” which arrived the day it was to screen) to the numbingly dull (the wine documentary ”Mondovino,” which was quickly rechristened ”Mondosnoro”). In pure number alone, Asian artists carried the day with the most awards: The Thai film ”Tropical Malady” snapped up the other Jury Prize, Maggie Cheung won Best Actress for ”Clean,” Yagira Yuya won Best Actor for ”Nobody Knows,” and the Korean film ”Old Boy” pulled down the prestigious Grand Prix. Outside of the competition, things got even more star-studded with a trio of tiny art movies called ”Troy,” ”Dawn of the Dead,” and ”Kill Bill – Vol. 2.” (See EW critic Lisa Schwarzbaum’s take on page 59.)
Hollywood blockbusters. Political hoo-ha. Fabulous, boozy parties. Yes, Cannes was back after two years when it seemed as if the grim state of the world had taken its toll on one of the few places where, for 12 spring days, all is bright and shiny. In 2004, there was finally reason to celebrate, and people were thrilled to do just that. ”The experience in one word? SCRUMDELICIOUS!” hollered Jack Black, who was in town to promote DreamWorks’ upcoming ”Shark Tale,” adding, ”Ouch. I think I just threw my neck out saying that.”