31 May 2013

Zoe Moorman takes you through the most controversial moments of the Cannes Film Festival.


Sometimes, the show can’t go on. In 1968, Cannes was set against the backdrop of massive political unrest–beginning with a small meeting of socialist students who occupied the Paris University at Nanterre. After the arrest of these students, others protested. Their general discontent with the government soon escalated to the point that nearly a quarter of France’s workforce was on strike. Upon Cannes jury members Roman Polanski and Louis Malle resigning, and with screenings sabotaged by directors Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, the festival decided to close early. Given the President fled the country mere days later, it was probably a wise decision.


By 1954, eight years on from its launch, the festival was gaining momentum as both a cultural centre and the focus of mass media attention. In an attempt to kickstart her film career, British actress Simone Silva took the festival by storm by whipping off her bikini top and posing for photos with fellow actor Robert Mitchum. Allegedly, everyone was so excited by her bare breasts that the rush injured two photographers, breaking an arm and a leg between them. The Committee was scandalised by her use of the festival’s press for personal gain, and they stripped silva of her “Miss Festival 1954” title, asking her to leave the festival immediately.


Upon announcing the list of 22 films selected for competitions at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, it was noted by several major media outlets that there was not a single female director on the list. La Barbe, a French feminist group, soon published a satirical article in Le Monde saying “men are fond of depth in women, but only in their cleavage”, which was translated and reposted the world over. A flurry of articles and online petitions ensued, with backing from several high profile female directors, such as Gillian Armstrong, which critiqued the Festival’s gender bias. In 64 years, the festival has only give the Palme D’Or to one woman, Jane Campion, who is the head of the jury this year.


Who can forget Lars von Trier’s amazing press conference following the screening of Melancholia at Cannes 2011? “I understand Hitler” and “Okay, I’m a Nazi!” got a mixture of laughs and stunned silence from journalists. But the Festival Committee was not amused, declaring him a persona non grata the following day. This came in spite of the fact that the Danish director has shown almost all of his films at the festival, previously winning the Palme D’Or (Dancer in the Dark), the Prix du Jury (Europa) and the Grand Prix (Breaking the Waves). I’m not sure what my favourite part of the affair is: his apologising and then withdrawing his apology (because he shouldn’t have to apologise for his Danish sense of humour), or the look on Kirsten Dunst’s face as she watches him dig a hole for himself.


The laissez-faire, anything-goes attitude of the festival towards sex and violence means that they have never sat well with the Catholic Church. The Committee frequently screens sexual violence (Irreversible in 2002, Antichrist in 2010) and unsimulated sex (In the Realm of the Senses in 1976, The Brown Bunny in 2003) to textbook outrage. My favourite response to the critique by the Church comes from Luis Buñuel, with the censuring of his 1961 film Viridiana (depicting the sexual awakening of a nun) provoking him to say that he “didn’t deliberately set out to be blasphemous, but then Pope John XXIII is a better judge of such things than I am.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *