Cannes Film Festival Opens With Divisive Johnny Depp Film, ‘Jeanne du Barry’


For its opening film, the Cannes organizers have 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 winning a bitter defamation trial last year.

Directed by and starring Maïwenn, the film centers on a young woman as she climbs from humble origins to become Madame du Barry, the favorite of King Louis XV of France, who Depp plays in a white wig and powdered face.

The trial between Depp and his ex-wife, the actress Amber Heard, riveted the world last year as Heard aired allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Depp denied the claims, asserting that she was the true aggressor in the relationship. (A judge in Britain had ruled in an earlier case that there was evidence that Depp had assaulted Heard.)

The jury in Virginia largely sided with Depp, finding that Heard had defamed him when she described herself in a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Heard initially appealed the verdict, but then announced last year that she intended to settle the dispute.

The announcement last month that “Jeanne du Barry” would be screening after the Cannes opening ceremony sparked division online, with some criticizing the festival organizers (the hashtag #CannesYouNot circulated along with the news), while Depp’s devoted fan base celebrated it as a sign of the actor’s comeback.

The festival’s director, Thierry Frémaux, said in an interview with Variety last month that he did not view the film as a divisive choice. “We only know one thing, it’s the justice system and I think he won the legal case,” he said in the interview. “But the movie isn’t about Johnny Depp.”

In a news conference on Monday, Frémaux said he had no interest in the defamation trial, noting, “I care about Johnny Depp as an actor,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

On Tuesday, the French newspaper Libération published an open letter, signed by more than 100 actors, that accused the festival, and the broader film industry, of not properly shutting people accused of assault and abuse out of the event. Depp was not mentioned by name.

“Obviously, it does not come from nowhere that people who abuse, harass and violate are offered a place on the red carpet of this festival,” the letter reads. “It is a symptom of a global system.”

While the movies that have most defined Depp’s career involve eccentric leads who dominate the film (including Sweeney Todd and Willy Wonka), in “Jeanne du Barry” he is taking a secondary role to Maïwenn, whose film “Polisse” won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2011. Depp appeared at the festival that same year in the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

During the trial, lawyers for Depp argued that Heard’s op-ed in The Washington Post had destroyed the actor’s film career, saying that after it was published, he was no longer able to book a studio film. Heard’s side countered that his pattern of bad publicity and behavior on sets was at fault for any downturn in his career.

After the trial, Depp quickly re-entered the public sphere, playing concerts with Jeff Beck in Europe and appearing in a fashion show backed by Rihanna. But this is his first major return to the film industry.

“Jeanne du Barry” will certainly have significant exposure in France, where it opens in theaters on Tuesday and will later appear there on Netflix.

No plans have been announced for distribution in the United States.


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