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Thierry Fremaux doesn’t see anything controversial about having a Johnny Depp film open the biggest film festival in the world.
Depp stars as French king Louis XV in Jeanne du Barry from French director Maiwenn, which will kick off the 2023 Cannes Film Festival tomorrow. The choice raised some eyebrows in the U.S., where Depp has been more famous of late for his messy divorce, involving allegations of domestic abuse, from actress Amber Heard and a pair of high-profile defamation suits. One, filed in Britain over an article in the tabloid The Sun which to him as a “wife-beater,” he lost. The other, filed in the U.S. against Heard, Depp won, and was awarded more than $10 million in damages.
But Fremaux said Depp’s public image did not factor into the decision to pick the film.
“I don’t know about the image of Johnny Depp in the U.S.,” said Fremaux, speaking to the press on Monday. “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 act within a legal framework. If Johnny Depp had been banned from acting in a film, or the film was banned we wouldn’t be here talking about it…this [controversy] came up once the film was announced at Cannes.”
Fremaux added he had no interest in Depp’s private life or legal wranglings.
“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 [against Heard], it’s me. I don’t know what it’s about. I care about Johnny Depp as an actor.”
Fremaux also dismissed, as “radical” and “false,” a statement made by Portrait of a Lady on Fire star Adele Haenel in an open letter published last week in which she accused the Cannes Film Festival of “defending rapists” because it has celebrated filmmakers accused of sexual misconduct or abuse, citing Roman Polanski (who won the Palme d’Or in 2002 for The Pianist) and frequent Cannes guest Gerard Depardieu.
“She didn’t think that when she came to Cannes unless she suffered from a crazy dissonance,” Fremaux said, adding that was “normal” for people to use Cannes to discuss political and social issues “because we give them a platform.” He added that he found much of the media debate around the issue disingenuous.
“If you thought that this is a festival 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,” he noted.
Haenel last week publicly announced her retirement from the movie business, saying the complacency and indifference of the French industry to the #MeToo movement is behind her decision.
Despite the hot-button topics, most of Fremaux’s hour-long question-and-answer session with the international press was about subjects more prosaic — problems with the festival’s online ticket booking system — and artistic, with the festival director waxing lyrical on the cinema coming out of Japan, Italy and Africa.
Speaking on his choice to have last year’s Palme d’Or winner, Triangle of Sadness director Ruben Östlund, head up the competition jury for this year’s festival, Fremaux said they had wanted to pick a female president but couldn’t find a suitable choice.
“But he [Ruben] was the first choice for men. He was not a plan B, he was the plan A for men,” Fremaux said.
In the end, he thanked the press and the critics for helping to make “cinema at the heart of the world for two weeks” during the festival.
“There is a Cannes festival. It’s not me who does it; it’s all of us, all together. I really want to tell you this, and I wish you all a bonne festival!”
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