Johnny Depp’s comeback film is full of scandal both on-screen and off, as he tests out his French in the role of King Louis XV. There were rumours Depp only had a few minutes of screentime in “Jeanne du Barry”, which opens the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday and has a nationwide release in France the same day. But the 59-year-old actor is present for much of the film, even if his dialogue is kept to short phrases that help disguise his American accent.
Depp plays the 18th century monarch, who fell in love with a prostitute to the horror of much of his family and court. He signed up for the role before the court cases against ex-wife Amber Heard involving bitter accusations of domestic violence that threatened to derail his career.
Maiwenn, the French star who directs and plays the lead role in “Jeanne du Barry”, admitted she was worried about the impact of the trials. “The film was shot last summer and he was coming out of his second trial,” Maiwenn, who goes by a single name, told AFP.
“I had a lot worries. I was wondering: ‘what will his image become?’” she said. But Maiwenn said she had no doubts about casting Depp. “It was so clear (he was right for the role),” she said, though she approached two French actors first. Depp gives an impressive physical performance -- mostly through amused and imperious facial expressions -- and his short bursts of dialogue suggest a decent level of French for the actor, who was previously married to French star Vanessa Paradis.
Many still see Depp as a toxic figure, despite his victory in the last defamation trial against Heard, but he has already lined up his next film, directing Al Pacino in a biopic of artist Amedeo Modigliani. Depp’s trials are not the only scandal surrounding “Jeanne du Barry”, however.
In March, a well-known French journalist, Edwy Plenel of Mediapart, lodged a criminal complaint for assault against Maiwenn, accusing her of approaching him in a restaurant, grabbing him by the hair and spitting in his face. She refused to discuss the “ongoing case” with AFP, but admitted the assault in an interview on French TV this week, without going into details.
Plenel says it may have been motivated by articles about the rape allegations surrounding Maiwenn’s ex-husband and father of one of her children, director Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”). Maiwenn, now 47, got involved with Besson when she was still under-age and they married when she was 16 and he was 33.
She seemed somewhat irritated just being asked about her motivations for making “Jeanne du Barry”. “It’s hard to always justify your desires. It was just like that -- she intrigued me,” Maiwenn said, impatiently. But she added that her first interest in the courtesan came from watching Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film “Marie Antoinette”.“I always fantasised about making a period drama one day, but it was the discovery of Jeanne du Barry as played by Asia Argento that completely obsessed me,” Maiwenn said.
Her film is a grand costume affair, shot in the Palace of Versailles, and its $20 million budget was part-funded by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Foundation. Maiwenn dismissed any ethical concerns about taking cash from the kingdom, which is accused of spending lavishly on culture and sports to distract from its myriad human rights abuses. “It’s proof that mentalities are evolving,” she said. “And the 18th century is expensive.”—AFP