How it all began Update : 12.10.17 . 10:29 AM

Soundtracks that have gone down in Croisette history

Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino

Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino © RR

There are films of note and notes – of the musical variety – of films, another way in the story of the Festival de Cannes can be told. For 70 years now, the soundtracks of the selected films have provided a musical backdrop for the Croisette. From 1946 to 2016, the history of the event has also been written on the lines of its many unforgettable music scores. A look back at some of the most eminently hummable…

The Festival anthem

It’s not entirely an accident that since 1987, the strains of Aquarium by Camille Saint-Saëns have rung out at every festival and become the international anthem for all cinematic celebrations. In composing his suite for small orchestra, Opus 128 for strings, piano and harmonium, for the film The Assasination of the Duke of Guise by André Calmettes in 1908, the famous French composer very probably wrote the very first soundtrack in cinema history. In fact from the very beginning, every film had been accompanied by live music, in order to drown out the sound of the projector, but Saint-Saëns’ work no doubt represents the first ever score specially written for a screenplay.

Gilles Jacob, the Festival’s artistic delegate back in 1987, heard the melody in Terence Malick’s  Days of Heaven as part of the original soundtrack by  Ennio Morricone and decided to use it as the opening sequence for each screening at the event:

‘Through the work of  Morricone Saint-Saëns has given the Festival the best gift in the world: making every spectator feel joyful and receptive at every screening – whipping up a state of euphoria at the beginning of each film being presented. After that of course, each individual film is on its own…’

By citing his famous The Carnival of the Animals written in 1886, the Festival thus pays an eternal tribute to Saint-Saëns, who was among the first to understand the challenge of creating a composition specifically for the silver screen.  

Festival de Cannes credits


In the 1950s, it all kicked off on the Croisette with some of Hollywood’s most famous musicals, in which studios skillfully demonstrated just how music could dictate the plot of a film. The most noteworthy classics included Ziegfeld Follies (1947) and An American in Paris by Vincente Minelli, and Funny Face (1957) by Stanley Donen.  

They were followed in turn by a series of unusual musicals which set out to subvert the genre, including Kurt Hoffmann’s 1960 Das Spukschloß im Spessart, a horror comedy with 13 songs, presented at Cannes and dubbed a ‘Grusical’, from the German ‘Gruseln’ or ‘eerieness’ and ‘musical.’

Das Spukschloß im Spessart by Kurt Hoffman

In 1964, the Festival awarded its Palme d’or to an unprecedented film experience which first introduced the world to Catherine Deneuve. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was the first film by Jacques Demy to be entirely sung, to a score by Michel Legrand.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg by Jacques Demy

Another musical Palme d’or in 2000, Lars Von Trier’s, Dancer in the Dark, paid tribute to the great Hollywood musicals by once again subverting the genre, with a drama featuring an unforgettable performance by the singer Björk.


Dancer in the Dark by Lars Von Trier

In 2001, it was Australian Baz Luhrmann’s turn to enthrall the Croisette with Moulin Rouge. After his acclaimed Romeo + Juliet, the director continued his experimental blend of classical and pop culture, revisiting the myth of Orpheus, La dame aux Camélias by Dumas fils and the Paris of Toulouse Lautrec, drawing both on the modern repertoire of David Bowie, Elton John and the Police, and on original compositions such as Lady Marmelade.

Moulin Rouge by Baz Luhrmann

Original soundtracks

But not all the films that have lingered long in our memories are musicals. Down the years, several soundtracks have acquired cult status after appearing on the Croisette. Merely among the winners of the Palmes d’or, a number of legendary titles stand out. In 1960, the Palme d’or given to La Dolce Vita marked the triumph of the legendary collaboration between Federico Fellini and Nino Rota.

La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini

In 74, Scorsese called on Bernard Hermann, the historic composer of some of Hitchcock’s films, to write the soundtrack for his Taxi Driver, with its unsettling, hermetic and deeply atmospheric saxophone solo.

Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese

In 1993, Michael Nyman’s captivating composition for The Piano by Jane Campion helped both film and director achieve glory and earned Campion the distinction of being the only woman to date to have received the Palme d’or.

The Piano by Jane Campion

Another example is Goran Bregovic collaborating for the second time with the director Emir Kusturica after Time of the Gypsies in 1989, with this exuberant soundtrack for Underground, which picked up the Palme d’or in 1995.


Underground by Emir Kusturica

Of course, this list is far from exhaustive, but the success of these soundtracks down the decades demonstrates the central importance of the director/composer duo in the film world.

The advent of these great musical scores has also won recognition for their composers, including the most famous, to whom the Festival has paid many tributes, particularly beginning in 2003 with the Music Masterclasses, where the public has flocked to hear Nicola Piovani, Lalo Schifrin, Patrick Doyle, Alexandre Desplat and Howard Shore describe their art.

The Croisette hit parade

And then of course there are the ‘hits’ – those melodies which have created an unexpected buzz amongst festival-goers and still ring to this day in the ears of film buffs everywhere.

When Carol Reed visited Vienna to scout out locations for The Third Man, he met a musician in a bar and asked him to compose the soundtrack for this film. Anton Karas’ zither, the glorious opening to Reed’s masterpiece, soon became legendary and helped earn the film the Festival Grand Prix in 1949.

The Third Man by Carol Reed

10 years later, it was the song Orfeu Negro, an adaptation of the Myth of Orpheus at the heart of the Rio de Janeiro carnival by Marcel Carné, which introduced the Bossa Nova to the shores of the Mediterranean:



Orfeu Negro by Marcel Carné

And from one seaside town to another, it’s impossible not to mention, amongst so many others, the famous "Chabadabada" by Francis Lai, forever associated with the resort of Deauville, and A Man and a Woman by Claude Lelouch, joint winner of the Palme d’or at the 1966 Festival.

A Man and a Woman by Claude Lelouch

Shall we dance?

During the Festival season, the dancing at Cannes goes on long into the night! From soundtracks to hits from the popular repertoire used by directors to serve their plots. Tunes that the public loves and invites to its parties, in that magic transposition from life onto the screen and from the screen into life.

Who can forget Misirlou by Dick Dale and the Del Tones, the 60s hit revived by Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction (Palme d’or, 1994), to name but one example?

Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino

Since then, Winding Refn also made a huge impact with Drive and its unforgettable credits, to the chilly strains of Nightcall by the French composer Kavinsky, and most recently followed by I Follow Rivers by Lykke Li, made famous by Blue is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche, winner of the Palme d’or in 2013.



Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn

Blue is the Warmest Colour by Abdellatif Kechiche

This year, another selection will set the tone for the 70th Festival, bringing a new series of soundtracks to inspire laughter, emotion, gentle meditation, irresistible nodding of heads or the uncontrollable tapping of feet. Soundtracks we will love and perhaps find inspiring, full of imagination, a visual world of their own and echoes of all those other films, reminding us that for film buffs, cinema is not only a feast for the eyes but also for the ears…

Written by Camille Périssé

Share the page


How it all began Released on 22.05.17

Soundtracks that have gone down in Croisette history

There are films of note and notes – of the musical variety – of films, another way in the story of the Festival de Cannes can be told. For 70 years now, the soundtracks of the selected films have provided a musical backdrop for the Croisette. From 1946 to 2016, the history of the event has also been written on the lines of its many unforgettable music scores. A look back at some of the most eminently hummable…

Separate addresses with a comma * * * Required fields
How it all began22.05.17

Soundtracks that have gone down in Croisette history

Separate addresses with a comma * * * Required fields



12 : 06 : 34 : 57
Head over to the event's dedicated website

to relive the magic of the 70th edition!

By continuing to navigate our website,
you accept cookies being used and saved on your device, notably for promotional and/or advertising purposes, within the limits of our privacy protection policy.