Cannes Film Festival kicks off with Johnny Depp, 'Jeanne du Barry' and plenty to talk about

By The Canadian Press

Published 10:36 PDT, Tue May 16, 2023

CANNES, France (AP) — The Cannes red carpet sprang to life again Tuesday with the premiere of the Louis XV period drama “Jeanne du Barry," with Johnny Depp, as the French Riviera movie pageant launched a star-studded and potentially controversy-rife 76th edition. 

Throngs of onlookers shouted “Johnny!” as Depp, in purple-hued sunglasses signed autographs and edged back into the spotlight following his explosive trial last year with ex-wife Amber Heard. “Louis XV,” directed and co-starring Maïwenn, has been billed as Depp's comeback — though his prominent presence at Cannes has been hotly debated. 

A coterie of stars streamed down Cannes' famous red carpet for the opening night ceremony, including Brie Larson, Uma Thurman, Gong Li, Elle Fanning, Catherine Deneuve (who graces this year's festival poster) and a blue-haired Helen Mirren, who carried a fan labeled #worthit. 

Michael Douglas, who was to receive an honorary Palme d'Or at the opening night ceremony, walked the carpet with his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones and their daughter, Carys Zeta Douglas. 

This year's festival promises a Côte d'Azur buffet of spectacle, scandal and cinema set to be served over the next 12 days. It's unspooling against the backdrop of labor unrest. Protests that have roiled France in recent months over changes to its pension system are planned to run during the festival, albeit at a distance from the festival's main hub. 

Meanwhile, an ongoing strike by screenwriters in Hollywood could have unpredictable effects on the French Riviera festival. 

“My wife is currently picketing with my 6-month-old, strapped to her chest,” Paul Dano, a juror, said Tuesday, referencing Zoe Kazan. “I will be there on the picket line when I get back home.”

But with a festival lined with some much-anticipated big-budget films, including James Mangold's “Indiana Jones and the Dial of the Destiny” and Martin Scorsese's “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the party is sure to go on, regardless. Stars set to hit Cannes' red carpet in the next week and a half include Natalie Portman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Sean Penn, Alicia Vikander, the Weeknd and Scarlett Johansson. 

Earlier Tuesday, the jury that will decide the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, was introduced. Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund, a two-time Palme winner who last year won for the social satire “The Triangle of Sadness," is presiding over a jury including Dano, Larson, Argentine filmmaker Damián Szifron, Afghan director Atiq Rahimi, French actor Denis Ménochet, Moroccan filmmaker Maryam Tourzani, Zambian-Welsh director Rungano Nyoni and French director Julia Ducournau, who in 2019 became the second female filmmaker to win the Palme d'Or for “Titane.” 

Östlund, 49, wondered whether he might have been handed the opportunity a decade too soon. But while addressing the press, Östlund — whose “The Triangle of Sadness” was nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards — made it clear where his allegiances lie. 

“If I can choose between an Oscar and a Palme d'Or, it's an easy choice," said Östlund. "I would rather have one more (Palme) than have an Oscar.”

The opening night selection has attracted some controversy. “Jeanne du Barry,” which simultaneously opened in French theaters Tuesday, was produced following the much-watched 2022 trial during which both Depp and Heard accused each other of physical and verbal abuse. A civil jury awarded Depp $10 million in damages and $2 million to Heard. 

Maïwenn has made headlines recently, too. The French actor-director has been accused of spitting at prominent French journalist Edwy Plenel. 

In remarks to the press Monday, Cannes director Thierry Fremaux defended the choice, praised Depp as an actor and said he paid no attention to the trial. 

“To tell you the truth, in my life, I only have one rule, it’s the freedom of thinking, the freedom of speech and the freedom to act within a legal framework,” said Fremaux. “If Johnny Depp had been banned from acting in a film, or the film was banned we wouldn’t be here talking about it.”

– Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

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