10 iconic characters born at Cannes

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Empire Magazine's Features Editor Dan Jolin shares his top 10 characters

Barton Fink, Travis Bickle and Dorothy Gale have made the cut

After seven decades of Cannes Festival, the list of characters is diverse

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Cannes is iconic in so many ways, its fashion, its films, its stars, but what about the characters it creates?

While defining what exactly “iconic” means can be difficult, there is no denying that these ten characters have made their mark on Cannes’ history. Dan Jolin, Features Editor at Empire Magazine shares his top ten iconic characters from Palme d’Or winning films.

1. Barton Fink, ‘Barton Fink, Joel and Ethan Coen (1991)

Set in 1941, “Barton Fink” stars John Turturro in the title role as a young New York City playwright who is hired to write scripts for a film studio in Hollywood.

“Fink is perfectly Coen-esque. First of all there’s the name, you know exactly who that character is just by hearing it.

Then there’s the look of him. The Cohen’s love their crazy hairstyles – he looks permanently startled. The suit doesn’t seem to fit him quite right, in the same way that he gets into an environment he quite doesn’t fit, being the earnest playwright who has gone to Hollywood and is made to work on these terrible wrestler B-movies – he’s a man out of place.”

2. Sailor, ‘Wild at Heart, David Lynch (1990)

This 1990 American crime thriller revolves around Sailor Ripley, played by Nicolas Cage, and his girlfriend Lula Pace Fortune, played by Laura Dern, a young couple from North Carolina who go on the run from her domineering mother. Due to her mother’s machinations, the mob becomes involved.

“This is iconography courtesy of the actor’s wardrobe ideas as much as anything else – it was Nicolas Cage’s own jacket – he wore it as a Brando tribute. As Barton Fink is characterized by his hairstyle, so Sailor is by his snakeskin jacket, a symbol of his individuality. What I love about him – and Laura Dern as well – is the double act.

Obviously it’s a nightmarish, surrealistic road trip but there’s always this purity and love to their relationship. With Cage and Lynch together you get magic coming through and that encapsulation of darkness and light, the purity and terrible violence, all in him doing Elvis in a snakeskin jacket.”

3. Colonel Kurtz, ‘Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola (1979)

This film, set during the Vietnam War, follows the central character, U.S. Army officer Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen), on a mission to kill the presumed insane U.S. Army colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando).

“It’s almost accidental that Brando’s Kurtz became so iconic. Brando took a million dollar advance for the role, then tried to get out of it, but keep the million. He turned up drunk and overweight and hadn’t even read the script.

Coppola was faced with this immense problem, how can I make this character work, with guy who looks wrong and doesn’t even want to do the film? The solution was to shoot him mostly in shadow, but that really worked, the movie shifted into a surreal work and Brando became the monster at the end of the river.”

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4. Jules Winnfield, ‘Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino (1994)

Pulp Fiction is known for its eclectic dialogue, ironic mix of humor and violence, host of cinematic allusions and of course, Jules Winnfield.

“I keep coming back to the wardrobe, but it’s all about Winnfield’s hair. There’s something about that Jheri curl. Often these characters are given different hairstyles to make them stand out and it makes them iconic. You are never quite sure how well Jules and Vincent know each other, in some scenes they seem like they don’t know each other at all.”

5. Travis Bickle, ‘Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese (1976)

Set in New York City soon after the end of the Vietnam War, “Taxi Driver” stars Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle; an honorably discharged U.S. Marine, who is lonely and depressed. He becomes a taxi driver to cope with chronic insomnia, driving passengers around New York City every night.

“It’s hard to say anything original when talking about Travis Bickle as an iconic character, you’ve got three geniuses who are the architects of that character, writer Paul Schrader who put a lot of personal investment into the character, Scorsese as the visual constructor of the character and then De Niro who is coming into the very peak of his power as an actor at that time. I find it funny that De Niro wouldn’t change his hair for this film, the Mohawk is a hair piece, not that you notice.”

6. Travis, ‘Paris Texas Wim Wenders (1984)

The focus of this film is an amnesiac who, after mysteriously wandering out of the desert, attempts to revive his relationship with his brother and young son and track down his former wife who abandoned their family.

“He has the same name as Travis Bickle, but he’s the flipside of him. He’s the silent loner and again, as with many of these iconic characters, it’s the look of him. There’s something about him in that red cap wandering out of the wilderness, that makes him look like a modern version of a western hero.”

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7. Ada McGrath, ‘The Piano, Jane Campion (1993)

“The Piano” revolves around a mute piano player’s passion for music and her efforts to save enough money to buy her very own instrument and teach her daughter how to play.

“Here you’ve got the perfect synthesis of music and person because she communicates through the piano, part of what makes her character an icon is Michael Nyman’s score which is one of the greatest ever. Every piece on “The Piano” album stands alone, but then you put it together with Holly Hunter on screen and it feels perfectly part of the character and Hunter actually played the piano herself.

Campion was the first woman to ever win the Palme d’Or and the film shows this small strong woman in an alien landscape. It was the first time I saw New Zealand on screen, and Campion captured it really well.”

8. Dorothy Gale, ‘The Wizard of Oz Victor Fleming (1939)

Judy Garland stars in this film which sees Dorothy Gale, a young farm girl, lifted away from her home town in a tornado. Despite it’s impact on world cinema it never actually won the Palme d’Or.

“It didn’t win, but it should have. It’s an undeniable icon. It goes without saying she’s a gay icon and that has further entrenched her in the firmament. There is a bit of Dorothy in all of us, the wide eyed wonder of entering a whole new world. It raises the question; is she mad? Is it all in her head? Judy Garland is amazing in it, although clearly much older than the part, she anchors the film.”

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9. Harry Lime, ‘The Third Man, Carol Reed (1949)

American pulp Western writer Holly Martins arrives in Allied-occupied Vienna seeking his childhood friend; Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles), who has offered him a job, only to be told that Lime was killed by a car while crossing the street just days before.

“Similar to the making of Colonel Kurtz, Harry Lime’s presence is felt throughout the film but he’s only revealed late on in the film.

Another similarity is that Carol Reed got in a very esteemed and established actor, Orson Welles, who also didn’t want to do it, and had to be cajoled just like Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now”. All that feeds into why the character is iconic, the tensions and attention that went into making it work gave it its durability, you can’t imagine anyone else playing that part.”

10. Adèle, ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ Abdellatif Kechiche (2013)

This French romantic coming of age drama starts with Adèle, a high-school student who becomes troubled about her sexual identity. The film then documents her relationship with blue haired Emma.

“Both the director and the lead actresses; Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos won Palme d’Or’s for this film, with Adèle being the youngest artist ever to receive it at just 19. She is a different kind of icon in the sense that you wouldn’t necessarily recognize a silhouette of her, but she spends the film with the camera in her face, while having sex, eating, sleeping. It’s like living the film yourself.”