AS IT HEADS TOWARDS awards night, Cannes would usually be calming down after a week of manic business. Most of the competition films would have screened, many of the world's media would have left, the ink on key deals would be drying nicely.
Instead, a storm of publicity has ensured that no-one is going anywhere. There's a program carefully designed to keep media in town, and to maintain the buzz surrounding the Palais de Festival. What organisers could not have predicted, though, was global headline news emerging well into week two. The source of such widespread publicity: controversial filmmaker Lars von Trier.
Following a now infamous press conference yesterday, to promote his new feature Melancholia, von Trier finds himself at the centre of a storm that refuses to go away. His comic quips – seemingly sympathising with Nazis and Adolf Hitler, while also attacking Israel – not only made front-page news, they have now seen him barred from the one arena that has embraced him so.
"Lars von Trier is persona non grata at the Festival de Cannes, effective immediately," organisers said in a statement. This time, Lars had gone too far. And no amount of apologising could fix it.
One of von Trier's stars, Stellan Skarsgard, disagrees. "I know most of the journalists in the room took it for what it was: irony," he says. "But when it's in print, most of that tone is lost. There's a lot of people who love to get upset about this, to jump on the train. Everybody knows that Lars is not a Nazi, is not anti-Semitic. He was a Jew until he was 33 [when he found out his real lineage]. It's absolutely silly, all the emotions that have been set into motion. I don't understand it. It's ridiculous."
Cannes has long courted controversy but this year, that appears to have reached new heights. In its first week, Keith Allen presented his Unlawful Killing documentary about the inquest into Princess Diana's death, to an outraged press. A ruling president of France has for the first time been the subject of a damning feature (the farcical La Conquete). The (fictional) story of a high-school massacre has premiered (Lynne Ramsay's breathtaking We Need to Talk About Kevin). Disgraced music impressario Jonathan King was even allowed in to try and flog a typically ikky feature, Me Me Me, about children and violence (although not his criminal violence on children, mind).
"If there's a special code of subjects you can't joke about at film festivals, then there should be a list," Skasrgard adds, with more a hint of Danish droll. "The language we have with Lars on set is very rude. And any word you're not allowed to say is used. Because it's not the word – it's the intention behind the word that counts. Irony and double entendres might be difficult for some people. Danish people are very ironic, and express themselves very rudely, and take pleasure in that. I do, too."
The ban in Cannes is likely to scupper any hopes of a Palme d'Or for Melancholia, in which Kirsten Dunst stars as a nymphomaniac. Dunst strips off in the film, her first for von Trier, who has long been celebrated at Cannes for his daring work. Details of what the ban will mean for the film here are not yet known.
(Strangely, the last ban at Cannes was issued by the town council: at nudists, who for years had happily flashed their bits on Palm Beach, directly under the nose of the town's swanky yacht club. Disrobing, the town's council declared, would no longer be tolerated. That was two years ago.)
Elsewhere today, acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar has arrived with his stars Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya, following this morning's screening of The Skin I Live In. (At press call, one wag predicabtly asked the filmmaker, "Are you a Nazi?" To which the Spaniard, pictured above, simply replied, "Eh?") In the film, Banderas plays a plastic surgeon crafting a secret skin type to withstand fire, following his wife's death. It's a brilliantly bizarre, laugh-out-loud comic thriller of Frankenstein proportions – Banderas' first with Almodovar since Tie Me Up Tie Me Down, in 1990 – with Sex and Lucia's Elena Anaya starring as his subject.
Other faces to grace the 64th Cannes Film Festival over the past 24 hours include Peter Fonda (supporting oil spill tell-all documentary The Big Fix) and legendary B-movie director, Roger Corman (for Alex Stapleton's excellent documentary Corman's World).
Aside from Almodovar's film, Michel Hazanavicius' ode to 1920s Hollywood, The Artist, remains the biggest buzz film at Cannes 2011.