Cannes: Sean Penn Responds to 'Last Face' Critics

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Sean Penn in Cannes

"I stand behind the film as it is, and certainly everyone is entitled to their response," said Penn, who was joined by Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem at the press conference Friday.

Sean Penn's latest directorial effort, The Last Face, screened for critics in Cannes Friday morning, and the responses on social media were not kind. (THR's review called the film "a stunningly self-important but numbingly empty cocktail of romance and insulting refugee porn.") The actor-director was asked about the critical response during a press conference in the afternoon.

“I finished the film, so it’s not a discussion that I can be of any value to," he told reporters. "I stand behind the film as it is, and certainly everyone is entitled to their response.”

Penn, who previously directed Into the Wild, The Crossing Guard and The Indian Runner, was joined by the film's stars Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem at the press conference in Cannes. Theron, who was previously engaged to Penn before they parted ways after Cannes last year, plays an international aid director in Africa who meets a relief aid doctor (Bardem) amid a political revolution. Actors Jared Harris, Jean Reno and Adele Exarchopoulos also joined the press conference.

Penn, who is known for his own humanitarian efforts in Haiti, was asked about the value of entertainment when it comes to a film with a message such as The Last Face. “I think it’s important to entertain if entertainment is not synonymous with Donald Trump’s behavior. Too much of film is today, I think," said Penn. "What the hunger is now is pulling us away from our humanity a lot of the time. But to find beauty in things today is the way to fix it. But what we are calling beauty today is largely a perversion of it. And that's lamentable."

Theron and Penn have not been seen together publicly since their breakup one year ago. Penn was asked about casting Theron in the film. "It was a script that I was familiar with for a very long time, and then when I read it again, imagining her in it, it took a very big turn in terms of the overall tone of the film," said Penn. "And particularly Charlize with Javier. I'm just a fan of great performances."

Bardem, who was attached to the project even before Penn, said he’s been interested in the project since he read the script in 2000. “The love story, … the relationship is what drew me to the project," he said.

Theron spoke about the way the film was shot, by creating a natural environment for the actors, who worked with many local extras.

“I felt like we were all just kind of on this hike through the jungle,” said Theron of shooting the film. “It made for a very effortless shoot.”

“I think Sean really want this film to feel like we’re really in a moment. … This movie is real and tangible. We were there in all of those scenarios that you see on the screen,” said Theron, adding that there were days when there would be 5,000 extras on set in some of the camps.

Theron and Bardem also were asked about playing aid workers, and if they saw them as heroes.

"The ones that I've met, if you said to them, 'I think you're a hero,' I don’t think that’s why they do it, and I don’t think they'd think of themselves that way. That's the beauty of it — there’s no ego in it," Theron, who is originally from South Africa, said.

The Last Face is playing in competition in Cannes, with its gala premiere Friday night.

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