James Graham Ballard, one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century, passed away ten years ago on April 19, 2009. In 1996, he went to Cannes with the team of Crash, an adaptation of his strange 1973 book by David Cronenberg. To live his consecration by the world of cinema? Rather to experiment with skidding and bite the asphalt. As the monumental Crash hits theaters, a look back at one of the festival’s biggest scandals.
Three batteries. This is how the president of the jury, Francis Ford Coppola, decided to divide the aspirants to the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. “The films that we can consider for the Palme, the ones we can discuss and the ones we don’t consider at all.” In the room, we find Nathalie Baye, but also the filmmakers Tron Anh Hùng and Atom Egoyan. “Then Coppola took the paper with Crash and set it on fire,” he recalls, bursting into laughter. Literally. He had a very strong reaction to this film. It didn’t take on him at all. He found it dehumanizing. During the festival, the director of The Godfather insists that the jury do not discuss the films in competition. Egoyan and the others dine together, share anecdotes and do not realize their deep disagreements before the day of deliberations. “People reacted very violently at the screening,” says the Canadian. They were very divided, but as with Breaking the Waves, which received the Grand Prix. It’s Cannes. It’s still a bloodbath. Egoyan relativizes, but not Gilles Jacob. While he understands that whistles and quolibets are inherent in the role of festival director, he assures that “there never happens to friends getting angry with you about a movie.” Never, except at the Crash screening. “In 27 years, I don’t remember being insulted to this point of incandescent passion. A professional of the profession even shook me by the collar exclaiming vehemently: “What you did there is a bad deed! I’ll never forgive you.” At the end of the screening, Jacob understands that defending David Cronenberg’s film by evoking its aesthetics, staging or metaphysical parable would be a waste of time. The reaction is epidermal and goes beyond the scope of the 7th Art. “Many spectators themselves had teenagers of driving age,” he theorizes. Parents were not in favour of their children causing a car accident to experience sexual enjoyment, which was the main theme of the film. »
“The film is better than the book.
He goes further. It is more powerful and more dynamic.”
In this atmosphere of limousine parade and howling crowds, the English writer J.G. Ballard is a little lost. Stunned, even. “The film exploded with many people’s heads in its breath,” Cronenberg noted in a text for 4th Estate, Ballard’s publisher. We were facing an extremely hostile press. When journalists don’t criticize Crash’s ballardian heart, it’s the adaptation itself that is scratched like a bumper. To a Finnish journalist, the writer retorts: “The film is better than the book. He goes further. It is more powerful and more dynamic. An American critic lasts out at Holly Hunter. The actress plays Dr. Helen Remington, who has sex in the car, including with the character of James Spader, who was responsible for her husband’s death in a violent collision. Holly, what are you doing in this? In his autobiography, Miracles of Life, published a year before his death, Ballard notes that the actress “has come to life, delivering a passionate defense of the film, lambasting [the critic] for her narrow mentality and provincialism. The best performance of the festival. The author applauded forcefully, as many spectators a few days later when the name Crash came out of Coppola’s mouth, at the presentation of a special jury prize. Also many boo Cronenberg as he collects his reward. Gilles Jacob reveals: “Because Coppola wanted to be a democrat, he did not object to an award, something that was absolutely true for two filmmakers as unconformist as Atom Egoyan and Tron Anh Hùng. Leaving with two votes out of nine, they held on until they finally got satisfaction. Otherwise, we would still be there… On stage, Coppola evokes a decision far from unanimous and the passionate abstention of some jurors. “Francis cleared himself with elegance.” As for the insolent Mr. Cronenberg, replaces the same Jacob: “Oh him? He was laughing. He was thrilled.”