Cannes Boss Thierry Fremaux Confronts Johnny Depp Backlash, Rejects Claim That ‘It’s a Festival for Rapists’

Cannes Film Festival’s chief Thierry Fremaux asked journalists Monday if they really believed Cannes was celebrating rapists, as recently suggested by “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” actor Adele Haenel in an open letter published last week in Telerama.

Haenel, who quit acting in films after Roman Polanski won best director at the Cesar Awards in 2020, said she retired from the film industry for political reasons, and said Cannes was “ready to do anything to defend their rapist chiefs,” citing Polanski, Gerard Depardieu and Dominique Boutonnat, the president of the National Film Board (CNC).

Fremaux told journalists at a press conference ahead of the 2023 festival’s opening night 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.”

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

Speaking to the press directly, Fremaux said, “But if you thought that it’s a festivals 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.”

Fremaux also addressed criticism about the inclusion of Maiwenn’s opening night film “Jeanne du Barry,” starring Johnny Depp as French king Louis XV.

“I don’t know about the image of Johnny Depp in the U.S. 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 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. So we saw Maiwenn’s film and it could have been in competition. She would have been the eighth female director,” said Fremaux. “This [controversy] came up once the film was announced at Cannes because everybody knew Johnny had made a film in France…I don’t know why she chose him but it’s a question you should ask Maiwenn.”

Fremaux added, “As for the rest, 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 also care about Johnny Depp as an actor.”

Fremaux also spoke about having a Palme d’Or-winning director presiding over the jury for this edition and said it reflects the festival’s ambition to do something new. “Triangle of Sadness” and “The Square” filmmaker Ruben Östlund is serving as the head of the 2023 jury.

“As I told Ruben we wanted a woman [to preside over the jury], but he was the first choice for men. He was not a plan B, he was the plan A for men,” Fremaux said.

Fremaux described Ostlund as a shining light of European cinema for the last five to 10 years, adding, “He’s a cinephile….and through him we’re highlighting Scandinavia and all this generation. Joachim Trier was on the jury recently, and they’re part of a new aesthetic school in Northern Europe. The makeup of the jury is the same thing. They’re people I love and respect, who are surprising and unexpected. We’re on for another 85 years so the timing is ripe to try new things.”

The festival chief also discussed the large presence of U.S. movies at the festival, such as Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” from Apple and Paramount, Wes Anderson’s “Asteroïd City” from Focus Features, Disney’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Pixar’s animated feature “Elemental” and Todd Haynes’ “May December.”  Warner Bros., which scored big at least year’s Cannes with “Elvis,” is also at the festival with Leslie Iwerks’ documentary feature “100 Years of Warner Bros.” playing at Cannes Classics and will be hosting a celebratory dinner for its centenary anniversary.

The inclusion of these films in the lineup reflect the “fidelity, the permanence, excellence of these ties between the Cannes Film Festival and American films,” said Fremaux.

He said “some movies were not ready to be shown in Cannes, which [he] would have liked to see,” but the festival is dependent on “right-holders, producers and studios who have strategies.”

And although the city of Cannes has banned public protests on the Croisette and its surroundings, Fremaux said the festival will have a political edge, in line with its DNA.

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