Johnny Depp receives warm welcome as comeback film opens Cannes

Eric Randolph - Agence France-Presse
Johnny Depp receives warm welcome as comeback film opens Cannes
French actress director Maiwenn, US actor Johnny Depp, and French actor Pierre Richard arrive for the opening ceremony and the screening of the film "Jeanne du Barry" during the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.
AFP / Valery Hache

CANNES, France — Johnny Depp was feted by fans on Tuesday as he arrived on the red carpet for the screening of his comeback movie at the opening of the Cannes Film Festival, which has sparked anger over the choice to celebrate the divisive megastar.

Depp, 59, sporting a ponytail and shades, spent several minutes schmoozing with screaming fans, posing for selfies and signing autographs, before the screening of French period drama "Jeanne du Barry," in which he plays King Louis XV. 

He joined stars such as Uma Thurman, Helen Mirren — her hair a witchy stack of blue and velvet — and Elle Fanning, for the first night of the industry shindig on the French Riviera.

Michael Douglas also received an honorary Palme d'Or, with the 78-year-old joking about the fact he is two years older than the festival. 

"This means so much to me because there are hundreds of festivals around the world but there's only one Cannes," he said.

While 21 films from around the globe are competing for the Palme d'Or — the festival's top prize — there have repeated questions over its choice of opening film.

Depp remains a controversial figure since toxic court battles with ex-wife Amber Heard that revealed a turbulent private life involving alcohol, drugs, and domestic abuse allegations.

Related: Johnny Depp period film to open Cannes fest

But he is a long way from being "cancelled," securing a record $20 million deal to remain the face of Dior fragrance, according to Variety last week, and set to direct Al Pacino in a biopic of artist Amedeo Modigliani later this year.

'Violence in creative circles'

Although his new film is playing out of competition, the jury for the Palme d'Or was asked about Depp's presence.

Jury member Brie Larson, star of "Captain Marvel" and an outspoken MeToo supporter, looked flustered. 

"You are asking me that? I don't understand... Why me specifically?" she said. "I don't know how I feel about it."

But there was plenty of anger online, with a friend of Heard, journalist Eve Barlow, starting a new hashtag — #CannesYouNot — criticizing the decision to invite Depp. 

"Cannes seem proud of their history supporting rapists and abusers," Barlow wrote on Instagram, with pictures of Depp alongside past Cannes regulars such as Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski, and Gerard Depardieu — all of whom have faced sexual assault allegations.

Related: The films competing at the Cannes Film Festival

On Monday, festival director Thierry Fremaux said he was not interested in Depp's legal woes, saying: "I am interested in Depp the actor." 

A group of 123 French film industry workers also denounced the festival for "rolling out the red carpet to men and women who commit assaults." 

'Greatest film prize'

Jury chief Ruben Ostlund, who won the top prize last year, described the Palme as "the greatest film prize in the world. If I can choose between an Oscar and a Palme, it is an easy choice."

Of the films in the running for the award, a record seven have been directed by women.

Several Palme laureates are back in competition, including Britain's two-time winner Ken Loach, Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda, and Germany's Wim Wenders.

The festival, which runs until May 27, includes a slew of hot-ticket premieres, including "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny," the fifth and final outing for Harrison Ford as the whip-cracking archaeologist, and Martin Scorsese's new epic, "Killers of the Flower Moon", starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. 

Around a thousand police and security guards are in place for the festival, amid fears of protests linked to President Emmanuel Macron's unpopular pension reforms, with the CGT union even threatening to cut power. — with reports by Fran Blandy

RELATED: Scorsese, DiCaprio to premiere new film at Cannes

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