Today’s journey back through Cannes history takes me to the festival’s fifty-ninth edition, when Ken Loach won the Palme d’Or for The Wind That Shakes the Barley—a film currently playing in a limited engagement on the Criterion Channel at FilmStruck. The English director made his Cannes debut back in 1979 with Black Jack and has since racked up a staggering eleven nominations, taking home top honors a second time just last year, for I, Daniel Blake. In Barley, Loach tackles the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923) through the story of two brothers (Cillian Murphy and Pádraic Delaney) who join the Irish Republican Army in the fight for independence from the United Kingdom.
Named after a Robert Dwyer Joyce song and partly inspired by the memoirs of Republican leader Ernie O’Malley, the film was shot in and around County Cork, utilizing many locals from the nearby villages as extras. After its release, it broke records as the highest-grossing Irish-made independent film in history, and its Palme d’Or win (a unanimous decision by the jury) increased its circulation in the UK from thirty prints to 105. Despite its success, the film could not escape controversy, with right-wing British newspapers accusing it of being pro-IRA propaganda. In response, Loach has said that he sees the movie as being “about the British confronting their imperialist history” and hopes that “if we tell the truth about the past, we will have the truth about the present.”
The jury that handed Loach his long-awaited victory was led by president Wong Kar-wai, whose In the Mood for Love provided the key art for the festival poster. Notably lacking among the other jurors were any critics or writers, with the group being composed exclusively of directors and actors: Helena Bonham Carter, Monica Bellucci, Samuel L. Jackson, Patrice Leconte, Lucrecia Martel, Tim Roth, Elia Suleiman, and Zhang Ziyi. The festival opened with Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code and closed with Tony Gatlif’s Transylvania, both screening out of competition with new work by Wim Wenders, Paul Greengrass, John Cameron Mitchell, Abderrahmane Sissako, Johnnie To, Kevin Smith, Gaspar Noé, Sydney Pollack, Monte Hellman, Jane Campion, and François Ozon.
Among the high-profile in-competition films were Babel (which won Alejandro González Iñárritu the best director award), Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates, Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Family Friend, Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation (the director had another film, A Scanner Darkly, screening in Un Certain Regard), Bruno Dumont’s Flanders (which took the Grand Prix), Aki Kaurismäki’s Lights in the Dusk, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Andrea Arnold’s Red Road (the jury prize winner), Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, and Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver (