On a picturesque day in the South of France, throngs of Johnny Depp fans gathered along the Croisette, shrieking and snapping photos as embattled movie star graced the world’s most famous red carpet. “Jeanne du Barry,” which marks Depp’s first leading film role in three years, since ongoing legal battles with ex-wife Amber Heard stalled his Hollywood career, opened the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.
Depp recently won a defamation case in the U.S. against Heard, who was ordered to pay the star $10 million in damages, and is trying to mount a comeback. But the move has been criticized by some and embraced by others, including Cannes chief Thierry Fremaux, who said earlier in the festival “I care about Johnny Depp as an actor.”
As Depp, sporting a slicked back ponytail and tinted purple shades, exited his black car, squeals echoed throughout the sprawling complex that houses the festival, with fans extending photos for the actor to sign, while screaming, “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny.” “We support you,” one young woman cried as she tried to get Depp’s attention. Inside the theater, where most audience members were seated long before the stars strutted in front of the media and fans, Depp’s arrival was greeted with stoney silence. As he entered the Palais, however, the audience gave him a roaring ovation.
Depp remains a controversial figure, with some Hollywood studios wary of working with an actor who had such a tangled personal life and had developed a reputation for showing up to sets unprepared. But in Cannes, the reception was enthusiastic. Fans who spoke with Variety said they didn’t pay attention to the Heard trial. A 26-year-old woman, Louisa, who traveled from Switzerland in hopes of getting a ticket to the premiere of “Jeanne du Barry” and other Cannes screenings, said she and her friends did not discuss the courtroom fight while it was going on. “I’m not very interested in personal life stories,” she said.
Depp was joined by director Maïwenn, who has made her own headlines in the lead-up to this year’s glamorous gathering of movies. The French filmmaker admitted to spitting on a journalist, whose publication had reported that several women had accused her ex-husband Luc Besson of rape. Needless to say, “Jeanne du Barry” has been one of the most talked-about films at this year’s festival. Other buzzy movies gracing the French Riviera include Martin Scorsese’s crime epic “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the Todd Haynes romantic drama “May December” and Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City,” an off-beat comedy that stars Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks and Jason Schwartzman.
Earlier on Tuesday night, Cannes jury president Ruben Östlund walked the carpet with jury members including Brie Larson, Paul Dano and “Titane” director Julia Ducournau while speakers blared the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands.” There were other Hollywood emissaries and global cinema stars basking in the fading sunlight and flashbulbs. Those bold-faced names included Uma Thurman, dazzling in a long, flowing red train to match the carpet, as well as Mads Mikkelsen, on hand for the premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”; Helen Mirren, armed with an opera fan and blue hair right out of “The Hunger Games”; Chinese actor Gong Li; and Elle Fanning, who was recently tapped to appear opposite Timothée Chalamet in James Mangold’s Bob Dylan biopic.
The opulence and glamor on display stood in stark contrast to the labor turmoil roiling the entertainment industry, where a strike by the Writers Guild of America has slowed productions. There are also fears that film directors and actors could join the picket lines when their contracts expire next month, making it nearly impossible for major movies to get made. That’s to say nothing of a potential recession and the economic challenges faced by inflation, which are making it increasingly difficult to produce the kind of cinema that is celebrated each year by Cannes.
In the U.S., screenwriters are arguing that the rise of streaming services have disrupted the way that they get compensated for their work. Shows have shorter seasons, they say, and movies and television projects don’t give them their fair share of licensing revenue when they appear on Netflix and other platforms. Cannes has been a bastion of the cinematic experience and Östlund used his time at the microphone on opening night to take a swipe at the new way of distributing entertainment.
“When we are watching things alone, we are processing the images in a completely different way. The algorithm doesn’t want us to think,” he told the crowd inside the Palais.
Chiara Mastroianni, the actor and daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni, entered the ceremony singing a song in Italian and made a speech about the genesis of the festival, which was created on the eve of the World War II to fight back rampant fascism.
Cannes, she said, was an “act of resistance, founded in the September 1939, on the eve of a tragedy… The raison d’être of this festival remains the exaltation of our freedom. Freedom to dare, imagine and create.”
Before the jury took the stage, Dano took selfies with fans while still socially distancing, standing so far from strangers they had to extend their reach to get them in the shot. But other than that, COVID, which upended the 2020 edition and cast a pall over the 2021 and 2022 festivals, was a distant memory as Cannes returned to business as usual. Elsewhere outside the Palais, the ushers continued an ironclad no-selfies rule, instituted in 2019, as they tried to tackle any guest on the carpet who even looked like they were thinking about touching his or her phone.
Overhead, an image of Catherine Deneuve gazed down at the congregation of film lovers and cinema A-listers. The picture, a still from 1968’s “La Chamade” (Heartbeat), serves as the poster to this year’s festival, as well as a reminder of Cannes’ decades-long legacy and central role in highlighting an art form that continues to endure despite myriad threats.
Elsa Keslassy, Elizabeth Wagmeister and Ramin Setoodeh contributed to this report.