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May ‘68

In Paris in May 1968, confrontations between police and students brought workers out on a general strike and left the French government on the brink of collapse. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the suppression of the Prague Spring, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the continuing controversy over Algeria ensured that across Europe, 1968 was a revolutionary year.

Having been dismissed by the government as the head of the iconic Cinematheque Française, the much-loved Henri Langlois found himself reinstated. Emboldened by this victory and the capitulation of De Gaulle’s government, protesters besieged the capital on 3 May – Red Friday – and rocked its foundations. Within days, numerous workers had joined in and millions of people around the country were demonstrating and France was brought to the verge of standstill.

It was assumed that the Cannes Film Festival would proceed as normal, but with leading figures such as Godard, Truffaut and Lelouch – all of whom had campaigned for the reinstatement of Langlois – leading calls for its cancellation it began against a backdrop of unrest. Members of the jury including Roman Polanski and Carlos Saura were enlisted and finally the festival was halted on 19 May five days before it was due to come to an end. It would never be the same again.

The May 1968 events in Paris would be followed by clashes between police and students in countries all around the world, and would have a lasting political and cultural impact. There are clear parallels with the climate of today.