Even by the standards of Cannes, a festival that trades on spectacle and the bizarre as much as it does glamour and celluloid, the events of yesterday afternoon veered closer to big-top farce than anyone expected.
The circus arrived with the first reel of Keith Allen's documentary, Unlawful Killing, which purports to offer a "forensic analysis" of the 1997 death of Diana, Prince of Wales. The film, funded by former Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed, a long-time and ferocious critic of the royal family, attracted repeated criticism from journalists befuddled by the film. Throughout the farce, reporters walked out of the screening, heckled Mr Allen, and were left bamboozled by the no-show of Mr Al Fayed himself. The film's producers had told journalists he would appear at their official press conference.
"Mr Fayed had to cancel in the last 24 hours because of other business interests," said Conor Nolan, a spokesperson for Mr Fayed's production compan, Allied Stars. During the conference, Martyn Gregory, author of a biography about the Princess of Wales's death, Diana, the Last Days, repeatedly heckled Mr Allen over the film's contents. Gregory said the movie was "simply regurgitation of everything Mohamed Al Fayed has been saying since the year 2000".
As Gregory became more irate, the conference's moderator urged him to "show manners". Allen hit back by saying it was "becoming clear" why he had not included footage of Gregory, whom he had interviewed, in the film, before the author shouted at Mr Allen from the floor. "Nothing in this film is new," he bellowed.
Mr Allen said: "I didn't make this film because I'm a filmmaker, I wanted to make this film because I wanted to confirm what happened. I don't think it's sensationalist, I think it's a forensic analysis. I hope it shows to people that nothing is at its seems."
Proceedings began at around midday, when bemused journalists crammed into Cannes's Olympia cinema. Within minutes of the film beginning, reporters were fidgeting. Scenes in which Mr Allen interviewed clinical psychologist Oliver James, who compares one member of the royal family to serial killer Fred West, provoked gasps, though by this point several audience members had already left.
To laughter bordering on incredulity, the film concluded with Mr Al Fayed burning the royal warrants which once hung on the side of Harrods. Guffawing also greeted some of Mr Allen's more outrageous claims, including his assertion that the royal family were "gangsters in tiaras" and that journalists did not challenge the establishment because their editors "wanted knighthoods".
At the press conference, TV crews and reporters jostled to interview Richard Wiseman, a journalist who appears in the film, and Mr Allen. The director said he had been turned down by major broadcasters including the BBC and Channel 4 before approaching Mr Al Fayed.
Journalists challenged the credibility of Mr Allen's much-hyped documentary after the comedian revealed his £2.5m film was completely funded by Mr Al Fayed, though Mr Allen appeared unrepentant. "If I could have got the money somewhere else I would have done but I couldn't so I got it off him."
But most of the foreign media were as fascinated by the British media's hysterical reaction as they were by the film's contents. "I don't care about this at all, but I was surprised there wasn't one dissenting voice in the film," said one North American journalist, after the event. Most of the press corp filtering out of the Carlton looked jaded and unimpressed.
While Time magazine reported earlier this week that Mr Al Fayed was appalled the documentary contained a controversial close-up photograph of Diana after the crash, Mr Nolan denied that claim. Now, Nolan says "distributors are queuing up around the block" to take on the project, though refused to name them. As with everything surrounding this documentary, it seems it is hard to know what to believe.