The Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) is the highest honor given at the Cannes Film Festival. Each year it is presented to the directors of the best short film and the best feature film at the festival's official competition. Although Cannes started during the 1930s, the Palme d'Or was only established in 1955. During this decade, it was awarded to five films coming from different parts of the world.
Before the Palme d'Or, the top award provided by Cannes was the Grand Prix. Every festival season, the best film's director was presented with an artwork specifically made by a contemporary artist. In the 1950s, the festival's board of directors initiated the establishment of the Palme d'Or as the highest distinction given to a filmmaker with the best film during the festival.
The first Palme d'Or in the festival's history was awarded in 1955. However, from 1964 to 1974, Cannes returned to awarding the Grand Prix. In 1975, the Palme d'Or was reintroduced. Since then, this prestigious award has become the most coveted distinction for any filmmaker with a work competing at the Cannes Film Festival.
In 1955, the American film "Marty" by Delbert Mann was the first ever recipient of the Palme d'Or. This romantic drama is based on the 1953 teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky, who is also the film's screenwriter. It tells the story of two people who are both under the pressure of aging alone without a romantic partner.
Aside from winning the first Palme d'Or, it also won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Screenplay, Director, and Lead Actor for Ernest Borgnine. It was also nominated for four other Oscars.
"The Silent World" (1956)
The French documentary "The Silent World" ("Le Monde du Silence") by oceanographer and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau and filmmaker Louis Malle became the second recipient of the Palme d'Or. This film is considered one of the pioneering cinematic offerings featuring the use of underwater cinematography to show the depths of oceans in color film. It is also the first documentary to win the Palme d'Or. So far, this feat was only repeated by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" in 2004.
"Friendly Persuasion" (1957)
The United States received its second Palme d'Or in the third year of the award with "Friendly Persuasion" by William Wyler. This western war drama is an adaptation of the best-selling 1945 novel of the same title by Jessamyn West. Set in Southern Indiana during the Civil War, its story centers on a religious sect's opposition against war and violence. This film was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
"The Cranes Are Flying" (1958)
Mikhail Kalatozov of the Soviet Union won the Palme d'Or for "The Cranes Are Flying" ("Letyat Zhuravli") in 1958. Set during World War II, this film depicts how war damages the psyches of people. It features the story of two lovers who find themselves getting separated by the war.
This romantic drama is technically the second Soviet film to win Cannes's highest prize. The first one, titled "The Turning Point," was awarded the Grand Prix in 1946.
"Black Orpheus" (1959)
The Brazilian, French, and Italian co-production "Black Orpheus" ("Orfeu Negro") by French filmmaker Marcel Camus retells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Set in a modern context with Rio de Janeiro as its backdrop, this Cannes-winning romantic drama with a significant touch of music and comedy showcases black performers in the city's annual carnival. "Black Orpheus" also won the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film.
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