Cannes Film Festival kicks off with Johnny Depp, ‘Jeanne du Barry’ and a jury led by Ruben Östlund

This year’s Cannes is unspooling against the backdrop of labor unrest: protests that have roiled France in recent months are planned to run during the festival and a strike by screenwriters in ongoing in Hollywood

Cannes Film Festival
Cannes jury president Ruben Ostlund, center, poses with jury members Rungano Nyoni, from left, Julia Ducournau, Brie Larson and Maryam Touzani, on May 16, 2023.CHRISTOPHE SIMON (AFP)

The Cannes red carpet is springing to life again Tuesday as the 76th Cannes Film Festival gets underway with the premiere of the Louis XV period drama Jeanne du Barry, with Johnny Depp.

This year’s festival 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, the Weeknd and Scarlett Johansson.

The festivities Tuesday will include an opening ceremony where Michael Douglas is to receive an honorary Palme d’Or. (Later, one will also be dished out to Indiana Jones star Harrison Ford). 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 the jury that includes Dano, Brie 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, directed by and starring the French actor-director Maïwenn, c0-stars Depp as Louis XV. It’s Depp’s first new film since his trial last year with Amber Heard, his ex-wife. After 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.

In remarks to the press Monday, Cannes director Thierry Fremaux defended the choice, saying Depp is extraordinary in the film, and 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.”

Larson, a former member of the Time’s Up advisory board, was asked for her thoughts on the film playing at Cannes.

“You’ll see if I see it,” replied Larson. “And I don’t know how I’ll feel about it if I do.”

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