Cannes 76: Thierry Fremaux Confronts Johnny Depp Backlash

Cannes Film Festival’s chief Thierry Fremaux asked journalists Monday if they really believed Cannes was celebrating rapists, as recently suggested by “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” actor Adele Haenel in an open letter published last week in Telerama.

Haenel, who quit acting in films after Roman Polanski won best director at the Cesar Awards in 2020, said she retired from the film industry for political reasons, and said Cannes was “ready to do anything to defend their rapist chiefs,” citing Polanski, Gerard Depardieu and Dominique Boutonnat, the president of the National Film Board (CNC).

Thierry Frémaux, Cannes 2020 © RR

Thierry Frémaux, Cannes 2020 © RR

Fremaux told journalists at a press conference ahead of the 2023 festival’s opening night that Haenel, who was at Cannes to present “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” in competition in 2019, was making “radical” comments that were “false.”

“She didn’t think that when she came to Cannes unless she suffered from a crazy dissonance,” Fremaux said, looking surprisingly calm. “People use Cannes to talk about certain issues and it’s normal because we give them a platform.”

Speaking to the press directly, Fremaux said, “But if you thought that it’s a festivals 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.”

Fremaux also addressed criticism about the inclusion of Maiwenn’s opening night film “Jeanne du Barry,” starring Johnny Depp as French king Louis XV.

“I don’t know about the image of Johnny Depp in the U.S. 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 acting within a legal framework,” said Fremaux.

“If Johnny Depp had been banned from acting in a film, or the film was banned we wouldn’t be here talking about it. So we saw Maiwenn’s film and it could have been in competition. She would have been the eighth female director,” said Fremaux. “This [controversy] came up once the film was announced at Cannes because everybody knew Johnny had made a film in France…I don’t know why she chose him but it’s a question you should ask Maiwenn.”

Fremaux added, “As for the rest, 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, it’s me. I don’t know what it’s about. I also care about Johnny Depp as an actor.”

Cannes Film Festival is known to stand as a bastion of freedom of expression for filmmakers. Some this it’s positive, for others it’s a kryptonite but it’s definitely true that Cannes Film Festival stays loyal to creatives, from Roman Polanski – a convicted pedophile who we’ve bumped in to a few years ago at the Palais des Festivals – to Woody Allen – married to his step daughter who he has been allegedly molesting since young age – whose Caffe Society has opened the Cannes Film Festival in 2016.

Whether for the good or for the bad, Cannes Film Festival has a charismatic Secretary General who steers the festival to stand for creative work.

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Thierry Frémaux, Cannes 2020 © RR

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