At its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2023, “Killers of the Flower Moon” received a rapturous reception, being met with a 9-minute standing ovation. This marked a significant moment for Martin Scorsese, as it was his first film premiere at Cannes since 1985’s “After Hours”. The film, based on David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller, tells a sweeping American epic about greed and exploitation in the 1920s Oklahoma, and garnered glowing reviews. You can read our review here.
Welcome to the universe of Cannes, a magical festival that has been captivating the hearts of movie aficionados worldwide. But what makes this experience truly enigmatic? Is it the extensive applause lasting for more than ten minutes, or does the longevity of claps genuinely testify to a film’s grandeur? And who, pray tell, meticulously times these ovations?
Without further ado, let’s pull the curtain back on the Cannes secret: the standing ovations are an artful blend of spontaneous emotion and clever orchestration. When a film premieres at Cannes, a real-time recording of the cast and crew basks in the limelight, cast onto the giant Palais screen. The audience’s cheer often rises in direct proportion to the talent’s on-screen sentiment and the size of the ensemble.
Yet, breaching the 10-minute applause barrier cannot be achieved without authentic admiration. Cannes’ archive flaunts films from acclaimed directors like Guillermo del Toro, Michael Moore, Nicolas Winding Refn, Quentin Tarantino and others, who managed to evoke thunderous applause, equivalent to a short film’s duration. Let’s stroll down the memory lane of Cannes’ most enduring standing ovations.
Cannes’ Hall of Fame: The Longest Standing Ovations
Pan’s Labyrinth (22 Minutes): The visionary del Toro likely holds the record for the lengthiest standing ovation at Cannes. His spellbinding creation, “Pan’s Labyrinth”, was greeted with an astounding 22-minute ovation and later secured three Academy Awards.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (20 Minutes): Documentarian Moore seized Cannes in 2004 with his masterpiece, “Fahrenheit 9/11”, gaining a rousing 20-minute standing ovation. The politically-charged documentary even bagged the Palme d’Or, making it only the second non-fiction feature to clinch Cannes’ top prize.
Mud (18 Minutes): Despite not winning any awards at the 2012 Cannes, Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” still managed to spark an incredible 18-minute applause.
The Neon Demon (17 Minutes): Amid the boos, Nicolas Winding Refn’s controversial film, “The Neon Demon,” scored a magnificent 17-minute ovation in 2016.
The Paperboy (15 Minutes): In 2012, the most divisive movie at Cannes was Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy,” which received raves, pans, boos and a generous 15-minute standing ovation.
Capernaum (15 Minutes): “Capernaum” by Nadine Labaki, a poignant portrayal of a neglected 12-year-old from Beirut, also joined the 15-minute ovation club.
Belle (14 Minutes): Director Mamoru Hosoda’s “Beauty and the Beast”-inspired “Belle” made headlines in 2021 when it received an astounding 14-minute standing ovation.
Bowling for Columbine (13 Minutes): Michael Moore’s Columbine school shooting documentary was rewarded with a 13-minute standing ovation in 2002.
The Artist (12 Minutes): Michel Hazanavicius’ heartfelt tribute to the silent film era, “The Artist,” set off a 12-minute standing ovation.
Elvis (12 Minutes): In 2022, Baz Luhrmann’s biopic “Elvis” shook the Cannes with a heart-thumping 12-minute standing ovation.
Inglourious Basterds (11 Minutes): Quentin Tarantino’s riveting “Inglourious Basterds” received a standing ovation of 11 minutes at its premiere in 2009.
BlacKkKlansman (10 Minutes): Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” also commanded a 10-minute standing ovation during its 2018 debut.
Behind the Curtain: Timing the Ovation
And now for the question of who measures these ovations – it’s the ever-vigilant press! Cannes doesn’t officially clock the standing ovations, but eager journalists and attendees keep a close eye on their watches during these moments of jubilation. As for the motivation behind this practice, it’s a blend of tradition and competitive spirit, but ultimately, the true glory lies in witnessing a film so magnificent it moves an audience to celebrate it for minutes on end.
In the final analysis, while it’s certainly a thrill for filmmakers to bask in the applause, the real test of a movie’s success transcends the duration of its standing ovation at Cannes. Many a movie has received a hearty applause only to falter at the box office or during the awards season. Conversely, some films that didn’t elicit a particularly long ovation have gone on to achieve great commercial and critical acclaim.
The standing ovation is but one snapshot in a film’s life – an early indicator, perhaps, of the journey it will embark upon in the larger world beyond the festival. After all, at the heart of it all, the real triumph is in the power of storytelling and the ability to touch the human soul.