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Francis Ford Coppola in Cannes: two palms of gold, a presidency and highlights

Francis Ford Coppola, 85, is back in competition in Cannes with Megalopolis.

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Francis Ford Coppola in Cannes: two palms of gold, a presidency and highlights

Francis Ford Coppola, 85, is back in competition in Cannes with Megalopolis. The story of an architect (Adam Driver) who tries to build a utopian city after the destruction of New York. Obviously one of the most anticipated films of the fortnight, with a mixture of excitement and concern. Will the director of The Godfather live up to his past glory and his two palms of gold? To bring this project to fruition, announced 50 years ago, the former president of the jury broke the bank (budget of 120 million dollars)... While waiting for its world premiere, a look back at Coppola's long history at Cannes.

Coppola hit the Croisette in 1967. He was 28 years old and presented You're a Big Boy, Now in competition. This is his second feature film after Dementia 13, a mix of gothic thriller and Hitchcockian B-series, which bears more the mark of producer Roger Corman than of its director. Hired by production company Seven Arts to rewrite the scripts for Reflections in a Golden Eye, Forbidden Property and Is Paris Burning? Coppola resigned to write and shoot Your're a Big Boy, Now, a New York comedy under Godardian influence. When it was released in March 1967, Coppola drank whey as he read Charles Champlin's Los Angeles Times review: "You're a Big Boy, Now is one of those things, rare in America, and which Europeans call an arthouse film. » Selected at Cannes and praised by critics, Coppola dreams of being an independent director. His next film, however, was an adaptation for Warner of The Valley of Happiness, a popular musical comedy since its creation on Broadway in 1947, with Fred Astaire who had not danced on screen for ten years and The Beauty of Moscow by Ruben Mamoulian. With a relatively modest budget, Coppola shows a certain know-how. But it was not until People of the Rain that Coppola freed himself from Hollywood canons and asserted his personality.

In 1972, Coppola left The Godfather. A triumph and a curse for the director who will maintain an ambivalent feeling towards his adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel. “This movie ruined me, in a way. He directed my career in a direction that was not the one I wanted him to take. I wanted to remain an independent and free author-director. The Godfather, paradoxically, marked the end of the dream. » Coppola is a rich man and a big kid who doesn't know what to do with his money. It's booming in real estate and toys. In his house in San Francisco, in the very chic Pacific Heights neighborhood, a room is reserved for his electric trains. Eleanor, his wife, later realized that between their homes in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, the couple could wash in twenty-seven bathrooms. But Coppola also took advantage of the success of The Godfather to relaunch a project on which he began working in 1967: Secret Conversation. The film features Harry Caul, a sort of spy who wiretaps people for mysterious clients. A solitary man, who carries out his work without asking any questions. One day, while recording a couple's dialogue, he discovers a plot and loses control. Secret Conversation was released in 1974, a few months before the resignation of Richard Nixon, swept away by the Watergate scandal. Coppola creates a paranoid nightmare, helped by a Gene Hackman perfect as a neurotic and lost hero. A work much more pessimistic and distressing than the political thrillers to come from Pakula (The President's Men) and Pollack (Three Days of the Condor). And the first of Coppola's two Palmes d'Or. Except that the Palme d'Or does not yet exist and the supreme reward is the International Grand Prix of the Festival.

Coppola won his second palm of gold in 1979 with Apocalypse Now which would not have seen the light of day without the success of The Godfather II, considered superior to the first. He now rules the roost in Hollywood. Apocalypse Now was supposed to be a George Lucas film. Coppola pushed his friend to direct the screenplay by John Millius, inspired by Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Lucas finally left to shoot Star Wars – a “childhood” according to Coppola, he decided to go into the jungle himself and give his vision of the Vietnam War. First disappointment, the stars he dreams of being cast refuse one after the other. McQueen, Nicholson, Redford and Pacino sense the trap. The latter said to him: “I know how this is going to go. You're going to be up there in a helicopter yelling at me what to do and me down there, for five months, in shit. » Pacino is wrong. The reality of filming is much worse. Sex, drugs, tropical diseases and typhoons, the Philippines are transformed into a quagmire for a Coppola with bloated pride and pharaonic spending. Eleanor Coppola, present in the Philippines with her children, keeps a diary and takes a camera to document this apocalyptic filming, Hearts of Darkness. She waited until 1991 to release this making-of: “Back in California to edit the 60 hours of rush, I couldn't find a fair look at Francis. I didn't want him to come across as an idiot or a genius. »

The two years spent in the editing room were hardly more pleasant. In The New Hollywood, Peter Biskind describes Coppola content to "sit in the screening room at night, watching the outtakes, getting high and waddling around listening to music." » A manic-depressive and paranoid Coppola sees Michael Cimino ahead of him with Journey to the End of Hell, which a mocking press nicknames Apocalypse First. Apocalypse Now becomes Apocalypse When? (“Apocalypse when?”). The answer finally arrived: May 1979, the film was in Cannes and the explosion was immense.

Apocalypse Now shares the golden oalme with Le Tambour by Volker Schlöndorff, which is favored by Françoise Sagan, president of the jury not very keen on war films. With his “half palm”, as Coppola will call it, the director with already high megalomania is not far from losing his temper. During the press conference, he insulted the American journalists, accusing them of their malice. Some critics find the film morally ambiguous. “I made a film about moral ambiguity, how could it not be ambiguous? » Coppola gets angry. Before continuing: “This film asks the same questions as Nietzsche. What's good? What's wrong? We really are in a jungle! » When Jean-Pierre Rassam, the French distributor of the film, calls Coppola to tell him that the jury will give him a tie with Le Tambour, he has lunch at the Le Duc restaurant. He calmly responds, “Well, let them choose, I don’t want to share.” » Upon its release, the film was a success without re-editing the scores of The Godfather either. But Apocalypse Now acquires the status of a monster work, a trip about war and even more about war as a spectacle, a lie. Coppola owns his imperfections. “Making a film is like making a good wine,” he says. You have lots of grapes, some are too ripe, some not enough, there are some that don't have enough sugar, but with the winegrower's sweat, we finally make a great wine. »

After a first, less than memorable return to Cannes in 1989 for New York Stories, a sketch film made with Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, Coppola set foot on the Croisette again in 2007 with Tetro. The film marks a new stage in the director's exile far from Hollywood. Shot in Buenos Aires, digitally and in black and white, it draws on Coppola's personal story, showing a young man (Vincent Gallo) searching for his brother who disappeared without leaving an address. The redemption of a failed author under the auspices of Borges. For the occasion, Coppola prefers to keep a low profile, preferring the Filmmakers' Fortnight to the official selection, where he returned in 2001 to present with great fanfare Apocalypse Now Redux, a new version of his Palme d'Or. Like a painter constantly retouching his canvas, the filmmaker will never stop putting Apocalypse Now back on the editing table. A third new and restored version will be released in theaters in 2019, 40 years after its Palme d'Or. Coppola's words at the 1979 press conference come to mind: “My film is not a film. He doesn't talk about Vietnam, he is Vietnam. Its trajectory mirrors that of America in Vietnam. We had too much money, too much equipment and little by little we went crazy. » Coppola's madness made his greatness and his fall. Megalopolis, rebound or depths? Response at the end of May.

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