Alluding to the controversy that Delon has triggered with his past declarations, Fremaux said the actor was entitled to have his own convictions and has never tried to convince anyone of his beliefs.
“We know that intolerance is back (…) we’re being asked to believe that if we all think the same it will protect us from the risk of being disliked or being wrong, but Alain Delon is not afraid of being disliked, being wrong, and he doesn’t think like others, and he’s not afraid of being alone,” said Fremaux inside the jam-packed Debussy theater to an audience that included high-profile guests such as John Bailey, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“In this battle for tolerance and generosity (…) the festival will always side with artists,” added the artistic director, who started his speech with a mention of previous Cannes honorees such as Agnes Varda, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen whom Fremaux said “enlightened so many Cannes evenings.”
Although Delon has never been accused of domestic violence or of a crime, Cannes’ decision to honor him has been criticized by women’s rights advocates such as France’s Osez le Feminisme and Women and Hollywood in the U.S. due to Delon’s own public comments in which he admitted to having slapped women in his life.
Delon also faced criticism because he said in previous interviews that he opposed the adoption of children by same-sex parents and expressed sympathy with far-right politicians.
Fremaux addressed the controversy during the press conference on the first day of the festival, saying that Cannes is not “giving Alain Delon the Nobel Peace Prize.”
An icon of the European film industry, Delon has starred in more than 80 films, working with filmmakers such as Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean-Luc Godard, and appearing alongside movie greats such as Romy Schneider, Jean Gabin, Yves Montand and Lino Ventura.
Upon accepting his honorary Palme d’Or from the hands of his daughter, Anouchka, a tearful Delon said his biggest life achievement, besides his daughter, was his long career which he said was now over.
“For me, it’s more than the end of a career. It’s the end of a life. It feels that I’m receiving a posthumous tribute while being alive,” said Delon.
The actor said he was told, when he started out, that the most difficult thing to achieve as an actor is longevity.
“I lasted for 62 years. What’s difficult now is to leave, because I’m going to leave. But I won’t leave without thanking you,” said Delon.
As part of the tribute, the award ceremony was followed by the screening of Joseph Losey’s 1976 drama “Mr. Klein,” which highlighted discrimination against French Jews during WWII and their deportation to concentration camps. Delon produced and starred in the film.