It is no small secret that Cannes always has been dominated by “The French Cabal,” a combo of film critics from Gallic newspapers such as Le Monde and film mags including Positiv. While the critics may have been interchangeable, these publications weren’t. Their opinions lorded over everything shown at the fest and, often, affected how those films fared after they left.
Most of the foreign press didn’t really start showing up in Cannes until the 1970s, when U.S. critics Richard Corliss, Roger Ebert, Todd McCarthy (now Variety chief film critic), Rex Reed and Andrew Sarris began to play significant roles.
But in roughly the same period, it was Pierre Rissient who started to have the greatest impact on the fest’s tastes. Rissient — whose resume includes an a.d. credit on Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” — parlayed a press agenting gig into a role as Cannes’ scout.
From that unique post, Rissient gave the festival its first look at both Westerns (“Jeremiah Johnson” in 1972) and martial arts (“A Touch of Zen” in 1975). Rissient is credited with popularizing filmmakers as diverse as Clint Eastwood, Jane Campion, Abbas Kiarostami and Hou Hsiao Hsien.
McCarthy, who directed a docu about Rissient that’s in the festival this year, once called his subject “the least-known enormously influential person in international cinema.”