It’s hard to say which director was the first to behave badly at Cannes. Perhaps it was Fellini, scalping tickets for “La dolce vita” back in 1960?
What is known is that the kid gloves came off on May 18, 1968. That was when Gallic helmers Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard boycotted the fest in solidarity with the rioting French students and union leaders who would soon bring down the De Gaulle government. Louis Malle, Roman Polanski, Milos Forman and a host of others joined in, bringing the entire proceeding to a grinding halt.
While those helmers may have had their reasons, within a few years, poor sportsmanship became the chief reason. In ’77, a post-“MASH” Robert Altman was already a Palme d’Or winner. His “3 Women” was in Competition and his longtime supporter, reviewer Pauline Kael, was on the jury. Lead Shelley Duvall won the actress kudo, but that wasn’t quite enough for Altman, who bumped into Kael at the airport on his way out of town. “He started by calling her a fucking traitor and went from there,” remembers one witness. “It lasted a long time, the whole terminal could hear him.”
Since then, helmer temper tantrums have become de rigueur at Cannes. Peter Greenaway, despite being a fest darling, has become legendary for telling off the press. Spike Lee, in 1989, responded to the news that Steven Soderbergh’s “sex, lies, and videotape” had taken the Palme d’Or over “Do the Right Thing” by storming out of the ceremony, later crying racism to the media. In 1991, Lars von Trier — another Cannes fave — threw his runner-up prize for “Europa” onto the beach and called jury head Roman Polanski “a dwarf.”