May 31, 2023

For the opening film, Cannes organizers have opted for both star power and potential controversy with “Jeanne du Barry,” a French costume drama that marks Johnny Depp’s first major film since winning a bitter defamation lawsuit last year.

Directed by and starring Maïwenn, the film revolves around a young woman who rises from humble origins to become Madame du Barry, the favorite of King Louis XV of France, who plays Depp with a white wig and a powdered face.

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

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

Last month’s announcement that “Jeanne du Barry” would be screened after 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 didn’t see the film as a divisive choice. “We only know one thing, it’s the justice system and I think he won the lawsuit,” he said in the interview. “But the movie isn’t about Johnny Depp.”

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

On Tuesday, French newspaper Libération published an open letter, signed by more than 100 actors, accusing the festival and the wider film industry of failing to properly exclude people accused of sexual assault and abuse from the event. Depp was not mentioned by name.

“Of course it is not surprising that people who abuse, harass and commit violence are offered a place on the red carpet of this festival,” the letter reads. “It’s a symptom of a global system.”

While the films that have most defined Depp’s career have featured eccentric protagonists who dominate the movie (including Sweeney Todd and Willy Wonka), “Jeanne du Barry” plays a minor role to Maïwenn, whose film “Polisse” won the Jury Award at Cannes in 2011. Depp appeared at the festival that same year in the fourth film “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

At trial, lawyers for Depp argued that Heard’s op-ed in The Washington Post had destroyed the actor’s film career, saying he could not book a studio film after its publication. Heard’s side countered that his pattern of bad publicity and behavior on sets was the cause of every 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” is sure to gain a lot of exposure in France, where it will be released in cinemas on Tuesday and later on Netflix.

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