Cannes―The Cannes film festival opens Tuesday amid a row over its decision to honor the veteran French star Alain Delon who has been accused of being violent towards women.
Women and Hollywood, one of the US lobby groups at the head of the #MeToo movement in the film industry, said the decision to give him an honorary Palme d’Or “sucked.”
Last year the festival vowed that there “must be zero tolerance with sexual harassment or abuse of any kind” amid red carpet protests led by Cate Blanchett of more than 80 Hollywood stars and women directors.
An online petition calling for the Delon prize to be stopped branded the 83-year-old actor a “racist, homophobic misogynist”.
The row came as the world’s biggest film festival opens with one of the starriest line-ups in years. A host of Hollywood big names from Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Bill Murray to Julianne Moore and Elle Fanning are due on the Croisette.
The controversy broke after a new movie by Franco-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche was selected to compete for the top prize despite police investigating him for an alleged sexual assault on a young actress. Kechiche denies the claim.
Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein tweeted that she was appalled that Cannes was honoring Delon given that he “has publicly admitted to slapping women and he has claimed that being gay is against nature.”
“He has aligned himself with the racist and anti-Semitic National Front,” she added, which was founded by his life-long friend Jean-Marie Le Pen, which has been renamed as the National Rally by his daughter Marine, who now leads the far-right party.
Delon admitted hitting women in November when he was questioned on French television about claims of domestic violence from his estranged son Alain-Fabien Delon.
“If a slap is macho, then I am macho,” he said, adding that women had hit him and that he had never “broken” a woman.
His son said the star of such screen classics as “The Leopard”, “The Swimming Pool” and “Le Samurai” had beaten his mother, breaking eight of her ribs and her nose twice.
Another son, Anthony Delon, took to Instagram earlier this month to confirm that he was locked in a cage with dogs by his father as a child “to toughen me up”.
But Cannes director Thierry Fremaux came to Delon’s defense Monday, saying they were honoring his career not his views which the festival did not condone.
“Alain Delon is allowed to think what he likes,” he told AFP.
“I think it’s important to take a step back. What he’s said―sporadically here and there―we generalize and blend it all together.
“It’s complicated to judge someone through today’s lens, and judge things that were said and that happened years ago,” Fremaux said, adding: “We’re not giving him the Nobel Peace Prize.”
A petition calling for the honorary Cannes prize to be withheld clocked up nearly 18,000 signatures on the Care2 website.
The festival unveiled a huge poster of a youthful Delon which will be draped above the red carpet on Sunday when he receives the honor.
It pictures the actor in his breakthrough 1960 film, “Purple Noon”, where he played a devastatingly handsome serial killer.
Festival director Fremaux refused to be drawn on the case of Kechiche―who won the Palme d’Or in 2013 with the lesbian love story “Blue Is the Warmest Color”.
A judicial source told AFP they are still investigating a complaint by a 29-year-old actress made against him in October-although they have yet to interview the director.
The woman said she woke to find him fondling her after a dinner party in Paris in June.
His lawyers said he “categorically denies the veracity of these accusations”.
Kechiche, whose four-hour-long new film, “Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo”, is one of 21 movies vying for the Palme d’Or, was accused of harassing his crew on the gruelling shoot of “Blue Is the Warmest Colour”.
Its two female stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos complained about Kechiche’s behavior.
However, Seydoux later said that she was proud of the movie and “I really like him as a director. The way he treats us? So what!”
A host of music as well as screen legends are due in Cannes for the 12-day festival including Bono, Iggy Pop, Selena Gomez and Elton John, who organisers hinted may play before the premiere of his biopic “Rocketman”.
Sylvester Stallone will also make an appearance to promote his latest “Rambo” movie.