The edition in which Cannes has become a legend
Sixty years ago, in mid-spring of 1959, the Cannes festival was still young, but with very broad shoulders. Georges Huisman and the direction générale des Beaux-Arts had tried for the first time exactly twenty years before: for the first edition set in September 1939 everything was ready, from the honorary presidency of Louis Lumière to the official poster illustrated by Jean-Gabriel Domergue. To cancel it came winds of war, nefarious plans, finally the horror of the total conflict, and a ruthless irony: Germany invaded Poland on September 1, just on the day when in the hall of the Municipal Casino the first Cannes Film Festival.
In 1946, despite war, death and ruin in the middle, the new baptism of Cannes had betrayed neither enthusiasm nor spirit: the opening to the world, the interest in different looks and perspectives, the invitation to nineteen nations, the particularities of the Palme d'Or with eleven films (among others, Roma città aperto). This is the quick and exciting vision of the affirmation: despite the fatigue and the babbling of a couple of years, at the twelfth edition, between April 30 and May 15, 1959, the Cannes Festival is a strong manifestation of an identity unique, and who knows what it wants to tell. And the 1959 one, which in these days is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary, remains the edition to which the festival itself reserves a special abundance, when it speaks of its own history: the most probably important edition ever.
There was the same basic idea and the same desire to look at the world, sixty years ago. There was above all the Nouvelle Vague in all its freshness: the Cannes of 1959 is marked by the four hundred shots of Truffaut (to which the directorial prize goes), out of competition there is Godard with Until the last breath, in selection there is Buñuel with Nazarín, but to win the Palme d'Or (which will pull the sprint up to the Oscar for best foreign film) is Orfeo Negro by Marcel Camus, actualization in carioca sauce of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in the Rio de Late 1950s.
It is especially the edition of Hiroshima mon amour, with which Alain Resnais distorts the approach to the themes of passion, pain and memory, and the pen of Marguerite Duras, who signs the subject and script, revolutionizes the concept of writing for the cinema. If in those days the four hundred shots tell the difficult relationship with the present, incapable of deciphering the generation of the future and of being deciphered by it, Hiroshima mon amour is the work that disorienting telling the impossible cohabitation with the past, with the trauma , with the signs of the times and the inadequacy of reliving, through the few hours of love and memories of Emmanuelle Riva, a French actress in Japan for a pacifist film, together with an Hiroshima architect.
Truffaut, Resnais, and even Godard: that French May in Cannes is blessed in a few days by the contemporary debut feature film for the three totems of the Nouvelle Vague. The incredible spring of a collective, which was nearly missed by André Bazin, who died a few months earlier, at the age of forty, on the night of the start of the shooting of I quattrocento shots (later dedicated to the father of the Cahiers du Cinéma), perhaps unaware of the extraordinary and ideal epitaph that the filmmakers he inspired will reserve for him on the Croisette. They will do it by giving life to that festival which becomes the sensational detonation of the Nouvelle Vague in its highest expression, after which the cinema will never be the same. "A date in the history of cinema", will be called Morando Morandini.
Three first works for an ambitious and also tranchant historical passage, because the world seems to go in the opposite direction: Hiroshima mon amour after sixty years represents the completed manifesto of how it is possible to put man, his wounds, the its painful legacies, at a time when the second half of the twentieth century and its maximum systems seem to place human beings less than ever. How it is possible to make a film about the complexity of the exercise of remembering, while the world wants to forget.
The space race has just begun, and in 1959 the Soviet Union marks a big point, bringing the first object built by man, the Luna1 probe, out of the earth's orbit: less than a year and a half has passed since the martyrdom of the little dog Laika inside Sputnik 2, symbol of the feverish race of a humanity that has begun to raise its eyes and to have for the cosmos, as the Russians prefer to call it, a greater interest than that reserved for the planet. Also on Earth, in the political chessboard it is not a great moment for the Western bloc: the year began with the overthrow of Batista, who had left Cuba on New Year, and eight days later Fidel Castro had entered with his troops in L ' Havana. If in September of '59 there was on the diplomatic front the first relaxing signal of the Cold War, with the meeting at Camp David between Eisenhower and Khrushchev, in reality the first signs of the clamorous crisis of '61 that will mark the pinnacle of nuclear terror.
The ribbon cutting of the twelfth Cannes festival takes place when the nuclear risk already represents the generalized nightmare. Too early to joke about it, as Kubrick will do five years later with Dr. Stranamore or: how I learned not to worry and to love the bomb. In 1959 the bomb, the nuclear and the end of the world are bulky subjects in everyday life, occupy science fiction cinema and the pages of dystopian literature, and they are scary at all. Indeed, not really at all: curious that not even three weeks before Resnais's film sees the darkness of the hall is inaugurated in Ispra, a town of two thousand five hundred souls overlooking the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore, the first nuclear reactor in Italy.
This is the world outside, when in Cannes the lights go out, and the first images of Hiroshima mon amour appear on the screen. There was a nightmare, but the nightmare is still there, and we can see: burns, injuries, eyes inside which the orbit is empty (in a curious echo of the same Buñuel in that year). The wounds do not heal, the hair falls in locks, the fetuses inside the women's bellies are also corrupted (but what rebirth?), And the reconstruction, urbanistic and emotional, does not cover the sense of the precariousness of the balance, of feelings, of history . We are different, also changed forever. An overlap behind the other, memory is not a device, but a paradigm, and memory represents something akin to what T.S. Eliot and Montale would have called objective correlative: the flashback is not in the narration, it is the narration. It's revolution.
Nine years before what the history of the twentieth century will remember as the French May, on the French Riviera another spring marked the upheaval of the way of writing stories and making films. It was the days of Cannes, Truffaut and the dark region of a misunderstood adolescence, of the hardships and of the discoveries invented day by day by Godard for Jean-Paul Belmondo during the shooting. And of the almost anachronistic challenge of Hiroshima mon amour: using the representation of history and the anxieties that derive from it, start again talking about man, his identity, and what cannot be anymore. The not only aesthetic but expressive boldness of a unique season, the meaning of an anniversary that today, sixty years after that festival and the revolution it represented, is more than a mere number: it is the celebration of the need and of the ability of cinema to bring the objective back to what happens to us inside, while outside the years, time, history and lives take their course.