Daniel Leconte provokes with 'Jerks' docu

Director wants to open up debate on religion

CANNES -- Do we have the right to caricature God?

This and other questions involving religion and freedom of speech raised by the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed are examined by "It's Tough Being Loved by Jerks," a documentary by Frenchman Daniel Leconte that unspools here today as a special screening.

Leconte said his aim is to provoke healthy debate, even if that upsets some people because of their faith.

"We have to have this debate, because when we do, we win the argument," he said. "As soon as you explain that it's not Muslims that are targeted (in the caricatures) but those who kill in the name of that religion, it's different. It's like the difference between the Inquisition and all other Catholics. I wouldn't put (Tomas de) Torquemada in with Francis of Assisi. The extremists know they'll lose in debate, so they spread terror to widen the gap between East and West, between Islam and democracy."

"Jerks" follows the unprecedented 2007 trial of a French newspaper for allegedly insulting Muslims, and with radical Islam a hot topic for international media, it is bound to attract interest from buyers here.

The movie's starting point is the publication of 10 caricatures by Danish paper Jyllands Posten, which prompted protests and flag burning in sections of the Arab/Muslim community worldwide.

When the caricatures subsequently were printed by Gallic paper Charlie Hebdo, the satirical weekly added a front-cover cartoon portraying Mohammed weeping into his hands and declaring: "It's tough being loved by jerks," in specific reference to Islamic fundamentalists.

The publication prompted the Paris Mosque and other Muslim organizations to start legal proceedings for "insult towards a group of people on grounds of their religion" -- interpreted by the plaintiffs as racism.

"If the plaintiffs win this case, we won't wake up in the same France," "Shoah" director Claude Lanzmann says in the film. Lanzmann testified at the trial.

Leconte, who also was called as a witness, produced "Jerks" through his production banner Films En Stock. Pay channel Canal Plus came on board as did French independent Pyramide, which took French theatrical rights and international sales. All other territories were available going into Cannes.

The film follows the buildup to the trial and re-creates the arguments that were presented in court through interviews with many of the principal protagonists. Charlie Hebdo was cleared of the charges.