Woody Allen rejects culture of judgment at Cannes festival

Controversy stoked by MC’s bizarre joke about director and rape at opening ceremony

The Cannes Film Festival has kicked off, as it has done on three previous occasions, with an opening film from Woody Allen and some grumpy comments from the veteran director.

Allen's Café Society, a tale of Hollywood's golden years, is playing out of competition at the event. He never allows his films to compete.

“For any group to come together and judge the work of other people is something I would never do,” he said at the press conference. “To make a judgment that this is the best, with the implication that in some platonic way it is the objective ‘best’, is something I don’t believe in. So I don’t want to participate in it.”

The film was well received, but controversy was stoked when Laurent Lafitte, master of ceremonies at the opening night, offered a bizarrely inappropriate joke. “It’s very nice that you’ve been shooting so many movies in Europe, even if you are not being convicted for rape in the US,” he said.


The comment triggered genuine gasps in the Palais des Festivals et des Congres. In 1992, Dylan Farrow, Allen’s adopted daughter, alleged the director had sexually abused her. He has furiously denied the allegations and no charges have been levelled.

The crack came just hours after Ronan Farrow, Allen’s son, criticised the media’s “culture of acquiescence” regarding the story. “That kind of silence isn’t just wrong. It’s dangerous,” Farrow wrote. “It sends a message to victims that it’s not worth the anguish of coming forward.”

Many believe that Lafitte’s joke was also directed towards Roman Polanski, who has lived and worked in France for 40 years after being arrested for rape in the US.

George Clooney was in Cannes yesterday for the launch of Jodie Foster's Money Monster. The grey fox plays a celebrity stock market tipster who gets held hostage on air by an aggrieved investor who has lost all his funds.

The main competition continued with I, Daniel Blake, the new film from Ken Loach, and – early-doors favourite for the Palme d'Or – Cristi Puiu's three-hour Romanian drama Sieranevada.

Cannes is as much about business as art. The big news in the trade papers during the early days concerned DreamWorks' screening of early footage from its animated feature Trolls. Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick, who do voice work on the film, flew in for the presentation. "We are Anna and Garfunkel," Timberlake joked, before the two warbled their way through a rendition of Cyndi Lauper's True Colours.

Don't laugh. Trolls, released this Christmas, will probably be among the year's biggest films.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist