With tears in his eyes, the legendary French actor Alain Delon, seven times in contention at Cannes but never awarded, received an Honorary Golden Palm on Sunday (19), despite protests from feminist associations that accuse him of gender violence.
"It's been a long time since I've cried so much," said the icon of the French cinema, applauded, receiving the statuette for the whole of his career from the hands of his daughter Anouchka.
The room was packed, with the presence of festival president Pierre Lescure and his delegate general Thierry Frémaux.
"Tonight is a bit of a posthumous tribute, but being alive. I'm leaving, but I will not go without saying thank you."
"If I'm a star – and that's why I want to thank them – I owe it to the public and to no one else," he added, adding that he was thinking of the two women in his life – the actresses Mireille Darc and Romy Schneider.
The prize provoked controversy even before the beginning of the festival. A group of feminists accused the actor of being "racist, homophobic and misogynist," according to the terms of the American association Women and Hollywood, relying on statements he made in the past.
A petition with more than 25,000 signatures asked the organizers of the contest to "not pay homage."
"There should be no homage to the aggressors," reacted the French collective Osez le Féminisme.
"#MeToo has not taught us anything? We demand that the Cannes Film Festival refuses to pay homage to a misogynist aggressor."
"No one is obliged to agree with me, but one thing in the world I'm sure of, of which I'm really proud, only one: my career," said the actor at the awards. "This Palme d'Or is for my career, and for nothing more," he insisted.
In the French newspaper JDD, the actor accused his detractors of "inventing statements".
"I'm not against gay marriage, I do not care: people do what they want, but I'm against adoption by two people of the same sex … I said I hit a woman? I would have to add that I received more blows than I gave. I have never harassed a woman in my life, "he said.
"They want to put me the far right label, because I explained that I was a friend of (Jean-Marie) Le Pen from the Army. No, I'm right, period," he continued.
Denouncing a "political patrol", the director general of the festival, Thierry Frémaux, defended the actor.
"Alain Delon has the right to think what he thinks," he said, estimating that "it is difficult to judge from the perspective of today things done, or said" in the past. "We are not giving you the Nobel Peace Prize," he added.
Although he accepted to receive this Honorary Golden Palm, the 83-year-old actor maintained a relationship of ups and downs with the Cannes Film Festival.
He was last at La Croisette in 2013 for a restored copy of "The Sun for Witness" by René Clément, "his absolute master," after presenting in 2010 a restored version of "The Leopard."
But he refused for ten years to set foot on the festival, outraged that he was not invited, like Jean-Paul Belmondo, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the show in 1997.
In 1961, he stepped on the red carpet for the first time with René Clément's "Que alegria de viver!", In competition, returning in 1962 with Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Eclipse", Jury Prize. In 1963, he was back with "The Leopard", by Luchino Visconti, winner of the Palme d'Or.
But in 1976, when he introduced "Citizen Klein" by Joseph Losey, the film was not well received, which irritated the actor.
In 1990, it was in competition with "Nouvelle vague", of Jean-Luc Godard, when it reconciled with La Croisette.
Then there were years of tension, which even led him to say in 2006 that he would "never again" climb the steps of the Festival.
A year after this declaration, he returned to Cannes, invited to the 60th edition of the Festival. "Only fools do not change their minds!" He said at the time.