Russian participation in the Cannes Film Festival began when the USSR was invited to the first festival in 1939. France extended the invitation during a period when it held high aspirations of turning the great power into its ally.
However, the first festival never took place. The scheduled date, September 1, 1939, brought the outbreak of World War II.
The Cannes Film Festival resumed in 1946, and the Soviet Union was invited as a victorious nation. “However, the nation’s involvement in the festival was spoiled by technical problems during screenings, and Soviet officials accused the organizers of sabotaging their films. Soviet movies were barely shown at the festival over the four following decades.”
There were, however, a few major Soviet successes in Cannes. Fridrikh Elmer's The Turning Point became the first Russian film to take the Palme d'Or in 1946.
In 1958, Mikhail Kalatozov's The Cranes Are Flying became the second, and also last, Russian film to take the prize.
Many have come close to taking the Palme d'Or since. Andrei Tarkovsky was nominated for the Palme d'Or three times, for Solaris in 1972, Nostalghia in 1983 and The Sacrifice in 1986.
Grigoriy Chukray, like Tarkovsky was also nominated three times, for The Forty-First in 1957, Ballad of a Soldier in 1960 and There Was an Old Couple in 1965.
In the late 1990s, the controversies and intrigues associated with the participation of Russian films came to an end.
Since then, the likes of Pavel Lungin, Nikita Mikhalkov, Alexander Sokurov (nominated for the Palme d'Or five times) and Andrey Zvyagintsev have had a chance to really emerge. In a recent trend, the juries have begun paying more attention to film debuts.