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Cannes Festival 1974 Flashback: Francis Ford Coppola The Conversation

Cannes Festival 1974 Flashback: Francis Ford Coppola The Conversation

One of only nine directors to win the Palme d’Or twice, Francis Ford Coppola took home his first 50 years ago — back when the award was still called the Grand Prix — for The Conversation

A psychological thriller starring Gene Hackman as a morally conflicted surveillance expert in San Francisco, The Conversation couldn’t have been released at a more appropriate time. Hitting U.S. theaters on April 7, 1974, the movie asked pointed questions about power, responsibility and technology — subjects that had been top of the American mind for two years as a result of the Watergate scandal. It was pure serendipity; Coppola had started writing the screenplay in the 1960s. Just four months after the film’s release, Richard Nixon would resign the presidency for his role in the infamous cover-up. 

In the intervening years, the film has only seen its cultural resonance increase. In 1995, it was chosen for preservation by the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant,” while surveillance has become an everyday element of American life. 

Back in May 1974, the film received not only the festival’s top award but its Ecumenical Jury Prize, which “designates works of artistic quality, film testimonials to the depth of human feeling and its mystery, through human preoccupations, hopes and despairs.”

This year, Coppola returned to Cannes with another film that looks to mine the preoccupations, hopes and despairs of humans. Megalopolis, the director’s much-anticipated passion project, premiered in competition and marks the second time Coppola has committed one of the industry’s cardinal sins: using his own money to make a movie, this time to the tune of a reported $120 million.

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The first time he did that, he ended up taking home his second Palme d’Or, for Apocalypse Now, which split the top prize with Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum in 1979. Coppola spent $16 million of his own money on the Vietnam War drama, which now, like The Conversation, is an undisputed classic.

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