Cannes Film Festival Kicks Off With Johnny Depp, ‘Jeanne Du Barry,’ and Plenty to Talk About

Cannes Film Festival Kicks Off With Johnny Depp, ‘Jeanne Du Barry,’ and Plenty to Talk About
Johnny Depp poses for photographers upon arrival at the opening ceremony and the premiere of the film "Jeanne du Barry" at the 76th international film festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 16, 2023. (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP)

CANNES, France—The Cannes Film Festival red carpet sprang to life 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. “Jeanne du Barry,” 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, Naomi Campbell, Catherine Deneuve (who graces this year’s festival poster) and Helen Mirren.

Uma Thurman
Uma Thurman poses for photographers upon arrival at the opening ceremony and the premiere of the film “Jeanne du Barry” at the 76th international film festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 16, 2023. (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP)

During the opening ceremony, Michael Douglas received an honorary Palme d’Or, with his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones and their daughter, Carys Zeta Douglas, looking on from the audience.

“I’m even older than the festival,” said Douglas, 78, after receiving a warm standing ovation.

Douglas and Deneuve officially declared open a festival that 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, Scarlett Johansson and Abel Tesfaye—also known as the Weeknd.

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. Earlier this month, she confirmed that she assaulted him in a restaurant.

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.”

By Jake Coyle

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