For its opening film, Cannes organizers opted for both star power and potential controversy with “Jeanne du Barry,” a French costume drama that is Johnny Depp’s first major film since he won a libel suit last year.
Directed by and starring Maïwenn, the film centers on a young woman as she rises from humble origins to become Madame du Barry, the favorite of King Louis XV of France, whom Depp plays in a white wig and powdered face. .
The lawsuit between Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard fascinated the world last year as the actress aired allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Depp has denied the allegations, saying she was the real abuser in the relationship. (A British judge had ruled in an earlier case that there was evidence Depp assaulted Heard.)
The Virginia jury largely sided with Depp, finding Heard defamed him when she described herself in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed as a “public figure representing domestic violence.” Heard initially appealed the verdict, but later announced last year that she intended to settle the dispute.
The announcement last month that “Jeanne du Barry” would be screened after the Cannes opening ceremony sparked division online, with some criticizing the festival’s organizers (the hashtag #CannesYouNot circulated with the news), while Depp’s devoted fans celebrated it as a sign of the actor’s return.
Festival director Thierry Frémaux said in an interview with Variety last month that he doesn’t see the film as a divisive choice. “We only know one thing and that is the justice system and I think they won the case,” he said in the interview. “But the movie is not about Johnny Depp.”
At a Monday press conference, Frémaux said he had no interest in the libel suit, noting, “I care about Johnny Depp as an actor,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
On Tuesday, the French newspaper Liberation published an open letter, signed by more than 100 actors, accusing the festival, and the film industry at large, of not properly excluding from the event those accused of assault and abuse. Depp was not mentioned by name.
“Clearly, it does not come out of nowhere that people who abuse, harass and violate are being offered a spot on the red carpet at this festival,” the letter read. “It’s a symptom of a global system.”
While the films that have most defined Depp’s career involve eccentric protagonists who dominate the film (including Sweeney Todd and Willy Wonka), in “Jeanne du Barry” he takes a supporting role from Maïwenn, whose film “Polisse ” won the jury prize at Cannes in 2011. Depp appeared at the festival the same year in the fourth film “Pirates of the Caribbean”.
During the trial, Depp’s lawyers argued that Heard’s editorial in the Washington Post destroyed the actor’s film career, saying that after it was published he was no longer able to book a movie. in studio. Heard’s team countered that his pattern of bad publicity and on-set behavior was to blame for any downturn in his career.
After the trial, Depp quickly reentered the public sphere, performing concerts with Jeff Beck in Europe and appearing in a fashion show supported by Rihanna. But this is his first big comeback to the film industry.
“Jeanne du Barry” is sure to get significant exposure in France, where it hits theaters on Tuesday and will later appear there on Netflix.
No plans have been announced for United States distribution.