Cannes Film Festival kicks off amid anti-government protests

Amid France’s pension reform protests and controversies against Johnny Depp, the 76th edition of the festival kicks off.

The red carpet has been rolled out at Cannes as the French Riviera city gears up for the opening night of the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.

This year’s festival kicks off on May 16 and will continue till May 27, promising splashy blockbusters, films from up-and-coming talent and also possible encounters with the global film industry’s creme-de-la-creme strutting the grounds around the Palais des Festivals’ entrance.

“You know, when the curtain goes up in Lumiere, the suspense is kind of strong. It’s probably the cinema and the screenings in the world where people have the most expectation on the movies. And that is fantastic to share with the audience,” Swedish director Ruben Ostlund, who is also the jury president of this year’s festival, told Al Jazeera.

“This year, there are a lot of old dragons, like old masters of cinema that are presenting films. There are also some younger new directors, and I’m really looking forward to also watching films that were created during the pandemic,” said Ostlund, who won the Palme d’Or for best picture for the film Triangle of Sadness at the festival last year, as well as in 2017 for the film The Square.

Erik Hemmendorff, from left, Dolly De Leon, Philippe Bobe, director Ruben Ostlund pose with the Palm d'Or Award for "Triangle of Sadness" during the photo call following the awards ceremony at the 75th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 28, 2022.
From left: Erik Hemmendorff, Dolly De Leon, Philippe Bober and director Ruben Ostlund pose with the 2022 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival [File: Vianney Le Caer/Invision and AP]

This year’s highlight for film buffs at the festival is the French-language film Jeanne du Barry, which casts Johnny Depp as King Louis XV, his first major role since a highly publicised trial against his ex-wife, Amber Heard.

Critics have opposed his presence at the opening night of the festival. But the event’s director Thierry Fremaux told Variety magazine that the actor had not been banned from working.

Other stars

Filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, and actors Natalie Portman and Michael Douglas are also among other stars expected to appear on Croisette boulevard at the festival.

New films by directors Nanni Moretti, Ken Loach and Wim Wenders are also among those competing for the top Palme d’Or prize.

But Ostlund told Al Jazeera that as a part of the jury, he seeks to ensure every director is treated equally, highlighting that filmmakers, new or old, have a knack of constantly improving their craft, something he admires.

“I think the great thing with the Cannes Film Festival is that it also really gives you attention as a director and the film gets attention,” he said. “It has changed my life and has opened a lot of doors.”

Anti-government protest

Besides celebrity glamour and intriguing films set to capture the eyes of film buffs at the festival, anti-government protesters have also shown up outside the festival grounds, threatening to ban the festival.

The French CGT power union has threatened to cut electricity as part of a protest against French President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reforms.

Festival organisers are concerned about the unrest, which could dampen the spirit of cinema.

But Scott Roxborough, the European bureau chief at The Hollywood Reporter, told Reuters news agency that “people have a right to protest and free speech should not be kept away from the glamour”.

Additional reporting by Al Jazeera’s Charlie Angela and Victoria Baux in Cannes.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies