A Brief History of Cannes Controversies: Lars Von Trier’s Disastrous Press Conference, Roger Ebert’s ‘Bad Bunny’ Feud, and More

The Cannes Film Festival is arguably the single most prestigious film festival in all of world cinema. Every year, hundreds descend on the French resort town for two weeks of screenings from some of the film industry’s most respected auteurs. If you want high-quality cinema, or movie star glamour, Cannes supplies all of that in abundance.

But maybe it’s because Cannes is such a shiny beacon atop the cinematic landscape that it’s also so frequently embroiled in massive controversies, in a way that American festivals like, say, Sundance don’t really manage, at least not anymore. It’s not an every year occurrence, but whenever Cannes starts up in May, putting money on something happening to make people very angry is generally the safer bet.

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Sometimes, the controversy has to do with the films playing on the Croisette themselves. Take notorious projects like “The Brown Bunny,” a 2003 erotic drama that prompted moral outcry for an unsimulated blowjob scene and led to a legendary feud between director Vincent Gallo and critic Roger Ebert. Or “Jeanne Du Barry,” the opening film of the 2023 festival, which was directed by and starred filmmaker Maïwenn and premiered weeks after she was accused of assaulting a journalist.

Then there are the controversies that come when filmmakers put their foots in their mouths at the festival’s press conferences, which are prime platforms for messiness and terrible soundbites. Look no further than Lars Von Trier’s notorious “Melancholia” press conference, which sent shockwaves through the festival when the Danish auteur made thoughtless comments calling himself a Nazi. That’s the most infamous press conference blunder in the festival history, but it’s certainly not the first, nor will it be the last.

And then there are the scandals that stem from the politics of putting on a massive film festival, one that exemplifies all of the bubbling issues that the French film industry has received scrutiny for in the current post #MeToo era. During this ongoing, largely calm and tepid festival, the drama has largely been of the industry variety: A prospective strike from Cannes employees protesting against a French government policy affecting their benefits, and rumors of a French #MeToo wave.

With the 2024 Cannes Film Festival currently ongoing, IndieWire is spotlighting some of the most notorious controversies and scandals in the history of the festival. In making this list, we eschewed putting on films that proved divisive (that’s its own list in its entirety), unless the content of said films led to deeper scandals or moral outcries. Read on for the 10 biggest controversies in Cannes Film Festival history, listed in chronological order.

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