The Cannes Film Festival -- indisputably one of the most anticipated film events of the year -- is associated with glamour, prestige, and artistic brilliance. The seaside festival is also famous for serving up numerous scandals and controversies.
This year, Sean Penn's outburst during a press conference pales in comparison to past controversies that have taken place on Croisette. Also this year, unsettling and violent films like Rust and Bone and Antiviral have prompted audience members to walk out of screenings. But that's a minor reaction compared to the near riots that past films have incited. Here's a look back at five of the biggest scandals in the festival's history.
Lars Von Trier Reveals Nazi Sympathy: Last year, Lars Von Trier uttered a slew of head-scratching statements regarding Nazism during a press conference for his apocalyptic drama Melancholia. Not only did the controversial auteur proclaim I am a Nazi and I understand Hitler he also called the entire country of Israel a pain in the ass. His unsettling statements assured that he was branded a persona non grata which prevents him from attending the festival ever again. Von Trier's rant detracted from the beautifully shot Melancholia, which will likely always be associated with Von Trier's bizarre confession.
Michael Moore Wins Despite Controversy: In 2004 the world was still reeling from the effects of September 11th attacks. So when Michael Moore made Fahrenheit 9/11,' which questioned the of the U.S. government in the tragedy, many were outraged. Yet the Cannes community, which primarily consists of artsy progressives, welcomed the film. The daring documentary walked away with the coveted Palme d'Or and received a 15-minute standing ovation after its premiere. During the festival the film's content was the subject of a major debate that divided critics. Prior to arriving at Cannes, the film made headlines when Disney backed out of releasing the project, but Moore ultimately secured distribution after Bob and Harvey Weinstein privately purchased the rights.
Irreversible Makes Audiences Queasy: In 2004 the French film Irreversible provoked tremendous outrage and caused many to become ill. The horrific drama chronicles a brutal rape and a bloody revenge told in verse order. The opening of the film features a graphic murder in a sex club in which a man's face is nearly ripped off. Its climax consists of a scene that's even harder to stomach: The 10 minute-long rape scene shows a woman (Monica Bellucci) being attacked and sodomized in a desolate metro station. Following the film's screening BBC reported that 250 audience members walked out of the film while 20 of them needed oxygen after fainting.
The Brown Bunny Spurs Disgust: The festival doesn't shy away from featuring overtly sexual projects. This was especially true of 2003's Brown Bunny. The film featured a nonsimulated fellatio scene between Vincent Gallo, who also directed the feature, and Chloe Sevigny. Several critics panned the film and numerous audience members walked out before it was over. Gallo was distraught after a hailstorm of outraged critics labeled the film a disaster. Roger Ebert called it the worst film in the history of the festival. He even went as far as saying: hundreds walked out, and many of those who remained only stayed because they wanted to boo. The film opened up a dialogue about what constitutes art as opposed to unappealing pornography. The Village Voice summed it up best with: Every Cannes needs a scandal and this year's is the overblown press reaction to The Brown Bunny.
The Festival Shuts Down: In 1968 a revolution was brewing in the streets of France. Students protested, workers went on strike, and the Cannes film festival ended early. Socially conscious directors refused to participate in the festival and some even pulled their films from the line-up. Cinematic icons such as Jean-Luc Godard and Roman Polanski demanded that the festival conclude prematurely out of respect for protestors. That year director Francois Truffaut declared: Everything that has a shred of dignity and importance is stopping in France, Truffaut said that year. I don't know how one must do it, but I know that this afternoon or tonight, at least through radio since there are no newspapers, it must be announced that the Cannes festival is stopped or at least substantially reformed.