Cannes 2023: Johnny Depp's return, strike action and ticket trouble loom over film festival

Cannes film festival director general Thierry Frémaux with festival president Iris Knobloch in Paris, April 2023
Cannes film festival director general Thierry Frémaux with festival president Iris Knobloch in Paris, April 2023   -  Copyright  Michael Euler/AP Photo
By David Mouriquand

From ticketing issues to the potentially problematic presence of Johnny Depp and the threat of looming strike actions, here are the main talking points you need to know from this year's opening press conference.

Every film festival starts with the traditional opening press conference and they’re usually, let’s face facts, a bit of a bore.

However, Cannes head honcho Thierry Frémaux had a few things to say as he faced questions - and some mild grilling - from the international press, before the opening of this year’s festival.

Here are the main talking points. 

Not “a festival for rapists”

Frémaux was asked to comment on Portrait of a Lady on Fire actress Adèle Haenel’s words in her open letter published by French magazine Télérama last week.

In her statement, Haenel said she retired from the film industry for “political reasons”, denouncing the “general complacency” towards “sexual aggressors” like Gérard Depardieu and Roman Polanski.

The actress, 34, added that the French film industry had reacted with indifference to #MeToo accusations and stated in a recent interview that the Cannes Film Festival was not beyond reproach.

“The director of the CNC, the French organization for the promotion of cinema, Dominique Boutonnat, remains in office while he is indicted for sexual assault. But Thierry Frémaux, from the Cannes Film Festival, puts three women in the 2022 Official Selection, so I am told that this is going in the right direction?” she said, adding: “I don’t want to be part of a feminist washing machine. It’s bullshit.”

According to her, Cannes was “ready to do anything to defend their rapist chiefs,” citing Polanski, Depardieu and Boutonnat.

Frémaux told journalists that Haenel, who was at Cannes to present Portrait of a Lady on Fire in competition in 2019, was making “radical” comments that were “false” and “erroneous”.

“She didn’t think that when she came to Cannes unless she suffered from a crazy dissonance,” Frémaux said, adding: “People use Cannes to talk about certain issues and it’s normal because we give them a platform.”

Frémaux then asked journalists if they really believed that the festival was celebrating rapists, and if they’d still be here if that were the case.

“If you thought that this is a festival for rapists, you wouldn’t be here listening to me, you would not be complaining that you can’t get tickets to get into screenings.”

Speaking of which...

Ticketing woes

Ever since the pandemic, major film festivals like Cannes, Berlin and Venice have adopted an online ticketing system. In Cannes’ case, this means that accredited members of the press have to plan their screening schedules 4 days ahead of time, log on at 7am every morning and join a digital queue to hopefully get the tickets for the screenings they want.

Sounds simple enough, except that there have been some issues, and the press aren’t best pleased.

Indeed, logging on this morning on time, many – including yours truly – found that hot tickets like the new Indiana Jones film were already completely full in a matter of seconds.

Many have complained online and, in the absence of further screenings for big name titles – specific ally those in the Out of Competition selection – the press didn’t hesitate to ask what was going on.

“If you can’t see the film here, it’ll be out in cinemas soon,” answered Frémaux, rather flippantly.

He did, however, concede that there are still problems and that the system isn’t perfect yet.

Let’s wait to see what happens when the next big title – Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon – is bookable without summoning some online deities or paying off Cannes organisers. You can bet that there’ll be some angry journos rioting for that one too.

Speaking of which...

Writers strikes and union action looming

Frémaux stated that US professionals were welcome to speak out about the WGA writers’ strike at the 76th edition of the festival, adding that he was “not very well informed about that because we were preparing the festival.”

“I don’t know what consequences it will have… We have to respect it. If the actors and the screenwriters want to talk about it, they’re welcome.”

The US writers strike is ongoing and having an impact on US television and has already put certain major film projects on hold, including the Marvel film Blade.

You can bet that some US directors and actors in attendance this year will address the issue in their press conferences; it remains to be seen whether some will renounce their promotional duties out of solidarity.

As for the much-publicised threats from the French unions, who have said that they will strike and cut the power in Cannes, Frémaux mentioned that Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne was speaking to unions this week and that the union action remains to be seen.

“We’ll see, but again, Cannes creates an echo for those who wish to be heard and creates a platform for moments of expression.”

The city of Cannes did, however, recently announce it was banning protests along the Croisette and its surroundings for the duration of the festival, in order to prevent civic unrest.

That, and it probably wouldn’t look too great for the festival and it’s A-listers, coming to soak in the paparazzi flashes.

The labour union CGT is still preparing a large demonstration on 21 May, but it will take place along Boulevard Carnot, far away from the Croisette and from the festival’s headquarters.

To be continued...

Johnny Depp: US vs Europe

The opening film of the Cannes Film Festival this year is French period drama Jeanne du Barry, which has been touted as Johnny Depp’s comeback film.

Directed by Maïwenn, who also stars in the title role as the famous 18th century courtesan who works her way into the king's affections, Depp plays French king Louis XV and will speak French in the film, marking the first time the actor will do so throughout a production.

However, many US outlets cried foul, still reeling from last year’s high-profile defamation trial with ex-wife Amber Heard over her claims that he was physically abusive.

“I don’t know about the image of Johnny Depp in the US. To tell you the truth, in my life, I only have one rule, it’s the freedom of thinking, and the freedom of speech and acting within a legal framework,” said Frémaux.

“If Johnny Depp had been banned from acting in a film, or the film was banned we wouldn’t be here talking about it. So we saw Maiwenn’s film and it could have been in competition. She would have been the eighth female director,” he added. “I’m the last person to be able to discuss all this. If there’s one person in this world who didn’t find the least interest in this very publicized trial, it’s me. I don’t know what it’s about. I just care about Johnny Depp as an actor.”

Not that it’s just Depp who’s creating a stir with Jeanne du Barry, as director Maïwenn has admitted recently to assaulting a leading French journalist.

In a live TV interview promoting the film, the actress-director was asked about reports in April that Edwy Plenel, co-founder and editor-in-chief of news website Mediapart, had filed a complaint against her for assault.

According to French news reports, a woman approached Plenel while he was having lunch with his lawyer in a Paris restaurant. She reportedly pulled back his head by grabbing his hair and then spat in his face. Restaurant staff identified the attacker as Maïwenn.

On the nightly French chat show Quotidien, she answered the question “Did you assault him?” with a smile and a simple “Yes”, laughing as she refrained from any further explanations.

“It’s not the moment for me to talk about it. I am very anxious about the launch of my film,” said Maïwenn.

Clearly the director-actress didn’t want these reports and her confirmation to pollute the film, but let’s just say that Cannes 2023 already has its first problematic film.

Stay tuned to Euronews Culture to find out if the film is worth it and whether it can eclipse some of the mounting criticism... Even before critics have gotten a chance to see it.

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