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CANNES, France, May 17, (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 controversyrife 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, Catherine Deneuve (who graces this year’s festival poster) and a blue-haired Helen Mirren, who carried a fan labeled #worthit. 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-monthold, 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.” This year’s festival is headlined by a pair of marquee premieres: Martin Scorsese’s Osage Nation 1920s epic “Killers of the Flower Moon,” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, and James Mangold’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” starring Harrison Ford in his final performance as the character. But as blockbuster as Cannes can be, even those films suggest the wide spectrum of cinema on hand. Both Scorsese and Mangold were first in Cannes decades ago to premiere their early breakthrough films in the Directors Fortnight sidebar. Scorsese with 1973’s “Mean Streets,” Mangold with 1995’s “Heavy.”
This time, though, they’ll debut much bigger films, sure to be the hottest tickets on the Croisette. Scorsese has his $200 million epic for Apple TV+. And Mangold will premiere, as he says, “a more splendiferous project” than his minimalist debut. This year, 21 films are competing for the Palme d’Or, which will be decided by a jury led by last year’s winner, Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund. Seven are directed by women, a new high for Cannes in its nearly eight decades of existence. Among the most anticipated is Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher’s “La Chimera,” starring Josh O’Connor and Isabella Rossellini. The festival, running through May 27, will unspool against the backdrop of labor unrest on both sides of the Atlantic. France has been beset in recent months by protests over pension reforms, including raising the retirement age. In the US, screenwriters are on strike to seek better pay in the streaming era. The prospect of a prolonged work stoppage could potentially drive up prices for finished films at Cannes, the world’s top movie market. Among the titles seeking distribution is Haynes’ “May December,” which stars Natalie Portman as a journalist who embeds with a couple (Julianne Moore, Charles Melton) once renown for their age discrepancy.