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History beckons Coppola's 'Megalopolis', his first Cannes Competition film in 45 years

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Cannes, May 16 (PTI) Two-time Palme d’Or winner Francis Ford Coppola, 85, is back in the Cannes Competition after a 45-year hiatus with "Megalopolis", a mainly self-funded USD 120 million project, his first directing gig in 13 years. The last time the American cinema stalwart was here, in 1979, "Apocalypse Now", won the festival's top prize.

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It was his second. Coppola had won the Palme d’Or five years earlier for "The Conversation".

There is one marked similarity between the paths that "Apocalypse Now" and "Megalopolis" have taken to Cannes. Both had extremely troubled production histories.

The late 1970s film, which had a painfully chaotic shoot in the Philippines, was still a work a progress when it was included in the Cannes Competition despite vehement opposition from its US distributor, United Artists.

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"Apocalypse Now" arrived on the Croisette amid controversy and received terrible press from the American media contingent before and during the festival. At the Cannes press conference that year, Coppola famously launched a broadside at scribes from his country. But once the film premiered, the audience was blown away and the balance tilted in Coppola's favour. The rest is history.

Will the octogenarian American cinema legend, one of the prime movers behind the resurgence of US cinema in the 1970s, repeat history with "Megalopolis"? The sci-fi epic starring Adam Driver and Aubrey Plaza is set in a "fictional" modern-day US dealing with the aftermath of a disaster.

"Megalopolis", too, has not had the best of runs with the media on its way to Cannes.

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Segments of the film press have reported on Coppola’s old-style approach to movie production that has left many in the unit disgruntled. Moreover, a private screening that Coppola organized for friends and industry honchos has reportedly sparked dispiriting noises about the film’s slender commercial prospects.

Written, produced and directed by Coppola, "Megalopolis" has a big ensemble cast that includes Shia LeBeouf, Jon Voight, Jason Schwartzman, Talia Shire, Laurence Fishburne and Dustin Hoffman.

There is understandable excitement in Cannes ahead of the film’s world premiere on Thursday. How it is received by the press corps here might have some bearing on its eventual fate when the Competition jury, led by Greta Gerwig goes into its final huddle to decide the 2024 winners.

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Another legendary American screenwriter-director, 77-year-old Paul Schrader, hasn't had a film in the Cannes Competition since 1988's "Patty Hearst". Prior to that he had a film in Competition in 1985 – "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters", on which Coppola served as an executive producer along with George Lucas.

Schrader’s film competing at Cannes this year is "Oh, Canada", a drama that reunites him with Richard Gere, with whom the "Taxi Driver" screenwriter worked for the first time in "American Gigolo" (1980).

Coppola is one of nine directors who have won the Palme d’Or twice. Alf Sjoberg, Bille August, Emir Kusturica, Shohei Imamura, the Dardenne Brothers, Michael Haneke, Ken Loach and Ruben Ostlund are the others. But no director has ever won the prize thrice. Will he? PTI CORR BK BK

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