CANNES, FRANCE – France’s Alain Delon, set on Sunday to receive an honorary prize at Cannes that has sparked scrutiny of his views on women and same-sex couples, said in a newspaper interview that as an actor at least, he was beyond reproach.
“People can say what they want, I’m used to it. But there’s nothing to be said about my career. It’s irreproachable,” Delon, 83, was quoted as saying in the Journal Du Dimanche (JDD).
One of Europe’s most acclaimed actors for more than five decades and particularly admired in his native France, Delon has starred in films including Luchino Visconti’s “The Leopard,” which won the top prize at Cannes’ cinema showcase in 1963.
But he has also inflamed public opinion over the years, including by declaring his friendship for far-right politician French Jean-Marie Le Pen and has admitted to slapping women.
Delon stood by some of his views in the interview and said other comments attributed to him had been distorted.
“I’m not against gay marriage, I don’t care: people should do as they please,” he told the JDD. “But I’m against adoption by two people of the same sex.
“I said I’d slapped a woman? Yes. And I should have added that I’ve received more slaps than I’ve ever given. I’ve never harassed a woman in my life. They, however, harassed me a lot.”
Delon said he was “right-wing, full stop” and was not a supporter of the far-right.
In the wake of the “Me Too” movement to demand greater respect and representation for women, which erupted following a wave of sexual harassment scandals that rocked the movie industry, the Cannes prize has prompted criticism.
Melissa Silverstein, the founder of women’s advocate group Women and Hollywood, called out the Cannes festival for honoring “these abhorrent values” with Delon’s prize.
An online petition launched from the United States decrying the award had by Sunday reached just over 25,500 signatories.
“The festival has really tried to make great strides with their organization and … this year they doubled the number of women in competition,” said Rhona Richford, a Hollywood Reporter journalist based in France. “And so I think that doing that on one hand and turning around and giving this just shows an error in judgment.”
Cannes festival organizers defended their choice, saying Delon was “not perfect” but was being recognized for his acting career. The ceremony will take place later on Sunday.
“We’re not giving him the Nobel Peace Prize,” festival director Thierry Fremaux told a news conference earlier in the week.
Some fellow actors also came to Delon’s defense.
“What Alain Delon says is his own business, whether we agree with him or not,” said French actress Virginie Ledoyen, who is President of the jury handing out Cannes’ “Queer Palm” award for LGBT-relevant films this year. “He’s a magnificent actor who really shaped cinema.”