At a luncheon earlier this year, right before his Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated for 10 Oscars, director George Miller shared his memories of the two times that he served as a jury member for the main competition lineup at the Cannes Film Festival. The 69th edition of the world’s most important and glamorous movie fest started Wednesday — with Miller this time assigned as the president of the jury, a group of nine that also includes actors Kirsten Dunst, Donald Sutherland, and Mads Mikkelsen. They’ll judge the 21 features in competition and hand out their awards on May 22.
Speaking of his experience at the 1988 festival, Miller explained that he and screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) were the only exclusively English speakers on the jury.
“So Goldman said, ‘Look, let’s go and see the movies at the press screenings in the morning, not at the black-tie screenings at night. And let’s not read anything about the movies.’ And that’s what we did. Because when do you ever get an opportunity to see a movie, which you’re obliged to see, and know nothing about it? You never do. You always walk in and the beginning of the story, at least, is told by something that you’ve already heard, long before you walk into the cinema. That’s even more nowadays.”
“It was an extraordinary experience,” Miller continued. “The light would start flickering on the screen and I wouldn’t know which language the film would be in, which country, which time period, which actors. It’s very rare that you have that pure of a film experience. It’s a pure, rare experience. And a wonderful one.”
Miller specifically remembered the opening scene of a movie, completely unawares, that he saw during his second stint on the jury in 1999. “I’ll never forget this,” he said. “The movie began with a naked woman in the mist and she seemed to be walking around on the rocky ledge of a castle. She seemed to be in the clouds. I had no idea what period it was or whatever and it was very exciting. And then she got down off the ledge and walked across a little balcony through some doors and into a bedroom. And the camera moved to the bed and there was some sort of medallion that she picked up. And there was a swastika on it. And you say, ‘Oh, ok, we’re in Nazi Germany.’ It turned out that the woman was Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun.”
The film was called Moloch, by Russian director Alexander Sokurov. Check out these images from the opening scene to see how sharp Miller’s memory was, even 17 years later, of something that was so unusual and unexpected to him at the time.