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Palm dÓr for French legend Alain Delon, Cannes courts controversy all over again

Cannes Film Festival’s decision to award an honourary Palm dÓr to French actor Alain Delon has been severely criticised. The actor has, in the past, been accused of being a racist and a sexist.

world cinema Updated: May 08, 2019 16:00 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times
Cannes Film Festival,Palm dÓr,Alain Delon
Alain Delon in a still from the 1976 film Mr Klein.

Cannes and controversy are so tightly conjoined that they may as well be Siamese twins. And controversies began long ago on the French Riviera, the idyllic south of France, which hosts the 12-day festival every May. Often referred to as the queen of all, Cannes has been seeing excitement of this kind both on and off the screen. This year as well, we have a controversy. The festival is going ahead with its decision to award an honorary Palm dÓr to Alain Delon, the French actor who has been a darling of the masses for decades.

He has also been severely criticised for his comments on slapping women, for opposing adoption of children by same-sex parents and his support for the far Right in France. The founder of Women and Hollywood, Melissa Silverstein, said: “Am extremely disappointed that Cannes would honour someone who held such abhorrent values.” In a tweet, she said Delon “has publicly admitted to slapping women. He has aligned himself with the racist and anti-Semitic National Front. He has claimed that being gay is ‘against nature’. The Cannes Film Festival has committed itself to diversity and inclusion. By honouring Mr Delon, Cannes is honouring these abhorrent values”.

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But the festival defended its action by quipping that it was giving the award to Delon because he was a legendary actor, and he had been an integral part of Cannes history. Cannes refused to be drawn into the charges against him.

Cannes Film Festival defended its decision, calling Delon a legendary actor and an integral part of Cannes history. ( AFP )

The actor has always been accused of being sexist and bigoted, but violence against women is something new we are hearing about him. As far as the other side of the coin goes, nobody can deny that Delon was a master artist. He has been part of 80-odd movies — having worked with greats like Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean-Luc Godard.

And now here is the climax. Recently, Delon told Le Monde: “I have one regret after 60 years in the business. There is one thing I’ve missed out on that will always haunt me: I would have liked to have been directed by a woman before I die.”

Finally, could it be just an accident that Delon chose Mr Klein (1976) to be part of the Palm dÓr celebration. Helmed by Joseph Losey, this film, with the actor producing and starring, tells the story of discrimination against Jews during World War II.

Cannes never ceases to surprise and shock us. But these began many, many summers ago.

In the festival’s early years, when morals meant a mountainous lot, there were starlets dying for publicity and hoping to catch the eye of movie moguls. These gorgeous women stripped on the beach and headed for the arms of hunk-looking American actors, some of whom were thoroughly embarrassed - and their accompanying wives as well. But the starlets could not care less for they had got the shutterbugs clicking away furiously. And the photographs would make it to magazines.

In more recent times with such publicity on the wane, Cannes courted other forms of controversy. From getting “forbidden” films smuggled in pen-drives buried inside harmless-looking cakes to getting a jury president who did not hide the fact how hostile he was to the then American administration, the festival had it all. Last year, Cannes’ decision to ban selfies on the red carpet and denying journalists the privilege of watching movies well before the others saw them proved highly controversial. Critics were peeved, and fans felt utterly disappointed that they were stopped from clicking pictures with their favourite stars on the red carpet.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Cannes Film Festival close to three decades.)

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First Published: May 08, 2019 16:00 IST