Speech by Gilles Jacob in honour of Clint Eastwood :
My dear Clint, allow me to begin with a guessing game. What do you suppose is the greatest frustration a festival president can feel ? Do you give up ? And yet it’s not hard : he never gets to voice his opinion when the most important of moments arrives, and I’m talking about the moment when the prizes are given out. And that’s why we’re having this meeting here today, between old friends. Don’t be hurt, but I’m two weeks younger than you !
However, let’s get back to business. We’ve decided to grant ourselves, exceptionally, a privilege that is usually beyond the control of Thierry or myself. There is a precedent for this, the Palme des Palmes given to Bergman: but today it’s you that we’d like to honor, in the name of the Festival de Cannes.
The Festival isn’t making some kind of revolutionary action by doing this, the symbolic gesture simply joins the enthusiasm that cinema-goers and critics the world over have for you. What’s more, we find it impossible to determine which of your films over all the others would most deserve the prize. How can we expect to choose between BIRD, MYSTIC RIVER, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, your Japanese diptych or GRAN TORINO, already acclaimed as being the film “in which Clint Eastwood brings together his thoughts on film, his career and his country”.
So it would seem just the right moment to dedicate the Palme to Clint Eastwood, the maker of all these masterpieces. And to hell with your legendary modesty !
I mentioned your huge talent. What you need to know is that there are two Clint Eastwoods, each blending into the features of the lonesome American hero who so deeply moved the hearts of our Old World. There’s the one who is famous for his charisma, his temper and his ability to pull out his 38 Magnum faster than lightning : I am of course talking about Inspector Harry and the other highly popular characters that you kill once and for all in GRAN TORINO. They did, however, enable you to gain your independence, as well as a certain reputation. And they enabled the other, more confidential Clint, to make personal films that surprised people who do not know you, by their charm, their originality, their little night music, my dear Mozart – because life isn’t just about Jazz, you know – and their tempered lyricism. In these two currents of your work, the Bad and the Misty, we can all easily recognize the American mainstream versus the European touch. I’ll let you guess which one I prefer. But what’s comforting about it is that cinema-goers slowly became interested as much, if not more, in your films “about people” as with your action films.
Your directing skill is such that you shoot love scenes like thrillers, and thrillers like… thrillers! The journey of Million Dollar Baby, which I’m very found of, is proof of this: who would have thought that this dark, infinitely sad film would touch the hearts of so many audiences and thus become a classic ?
The same is true of your other masterpieces. Just like the great filmmakers the world over: Bresson; Ford; Ozu; Satyajit Ray or Rossellini, you very quickly understood that simplicity, the camera centered on the person, the exact length of a shot, the type of lens, the editing or the placing of music were crucial decisions. And, for each of them, there is only ever one choice – and not another. This is how one slowly takes one’s place in the History of film.
And, finally, sometimes, someone can be a great artist and a raving egomaniac. It happens! But not in your case. When Pierre Rissient, who’s been “bearing your flag” for so long, was unexpectedly brought to Cedar Sinaï Hospital, what did he see when he opened his eyes, half-conscious ? Clint Eastwood at his bedside. How long you’d been there, nobody knows, but you’d arranged for treatment, for nurses, for everything, and that foreigner suddenly found himself bathed in such an aura of popularity that even the most daunting of nurses was charmed. Why did I mention this unknown anecdote? Simply because these human qualities, so rare these days, are also one of the reasons we honor you today. Disproving the phrase from Scott Fitzgerald with which you epigraphed BIRD: "There are no second chances for an American hero", I’m now, my dear Clint, going to present you with the Palme d’Or, as a token of our admiration and a quarter century of shared complicity.
Clint Eastwood yesterday became only the second person to receive a lifetime achievement Palme d'Or from the organisers of the Cannes film festival. The 78-year-old film-maker was honoured for his body of work at a presentation at Le Fouquet's restaurant in Paris. He joins Ingmar Bergman, who received the honour in 1997, in the most exclusive club on the festival circuit.
Eastwood first competed at Cannes with his 1985 western Pale Rider, and also attended the festival to support White Hunter, Black Heart and Mystic River. Plans to honour him at last year's event were scrapped when his 1930s-set drama Changeling was selected for the official competition.
"I'm very, very flattered that you've chosen me for this," Eastwood said. "French cineastes have always been very supportive of me along the way. When I directed my first movie, French cineastes and critics encouraged me, while in my own country, everyone was much more reticent. France is the first country to approach and appreciate cinema as an art form."
Yesterday, Cannes president Gilles Jacob paid tribute to Eastwood's work before and behind the camera. "It would be impossible to choose just one of your works for this supreme honour," he said. "It's the right time to give the Palme d'Or to Clint Eastwood." Turning to Eastwood, he added: "And forget about your legendary modesty."
While Eastwood may have been a model of modesty at yesterday's ceremony, he was rather more outspoken in an interview earlier in the week. Speaking to the German magazine Der Spiegel, Eastwood, currently seen in cinemas as an unreconstructed racist ex-soldier in Gran Torino, railed against what he sees as a culture of political correctness that has effectively outlawed jokes about people's nationality or ethnicity. "People have lost their sense of humour," he insisted. "In former times we constantly made jokes about different races. [But] you can only tell them today with one hand over your mouth, otherwise you will be insulted as a racist. I find it ridiculous."
He added: "In those earlier days every friendly clique had a 'Sam the Jew' or 'Jose the Mexican' – but we didn't think anything of it or have a racist thought."
Eastwood will not be attending this year's Cannes film festival because he will be in South Africa, shooting a biopic of Nelson Mandela. The event runs from 13-24 May, and the jury will be headed by Isabelle Huppert.