“Jeanne du Barry”: how to cover a “problematic” film at Cannes?

Should we, as journalists, boycott works whose authors offend us? Is it, on the contrary, essential to see them in order to form an opinion and report on them as well as possible? Isn’t it the role of the critic, not only to analyze a work, but also to replace it in its context, to question it, and to transmit to the public keys concerning it?

These questions have never been so present in the minds of journalists as at the opening of the Cannes Film Festival 2023, launched on May 16 with the screening of Jeanne du Barry, Maïwenn’s new film. The director-actress, who has recently admitted to assaulting journalist Edwy Plenel, shares the poster with Johnny Depp, involved in a highly publicized divorce with Amber Heard and accused of domestic violence. The actor notably lost his libel suit against the newspaper The Sun, which accused him of domestic violence, and won another libel suit against Amber Heard.

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Personal Choices

In Cannes, several editors and journalists, some of whom preferred not to be named, chose not to see the controversial film. This is the case of Florent Boutet, who covers the festival for two media, in particular the review Cinema fileswhose editorial line requires that all films be covered. “I am here for two redactions. There is one that is exhaustive, so inevitably, there is someone who had to go and see, and it was not me.

For its second medium, the site The blue of the mirror, “We really choose what we want to highlight or not. These are things we’ve done in the past, like choosing not to cover Roman Polanski’s latest film, I accuseafter consultation with the editorial board. Re Jeanne du Barrythe editorial staff made the same choice. “The film doesn’t really need us. Do we want to give an additional platform to a film which, in any case, is going to be dealt with elsewhere? I know that there are people who are forced to do it, it’s the job that wants it. But when you have the choice, I think it’s not bad also to make that voice heard.

Ditto for Lou-Anne Lemaire, who covers Cannes for the first time for Cineverse et Should I see it?. “At Cineverse, we said we don’t cover those kinds of movies. We can’t talk about that. We don’t even do a negative review, because it remains a media exposure for the film. Regarding her second medium, the journalist did not receive instructions but clarified to her editors that she would not go to see the film: “I can’t see Johnny Depp anymore.” According to her, “Watching films and commenting on them as if everything were normal is not going to help the cinema industry to adopt a radical position. If the big media also decided not to cover them, maybe that would trigger something.”

American Melissa Silverstein founded the site Women and Hollywood, centered on feminist coverage of the film industry. For several years, she no longer comes to Cannes, and if she continues to cover the industry, she has chosen not to watch films made by people accused of violence or sexual assault. “I’m not someone who can separate the work and the artist. I made this decision because I want to expand my universe, and I don’t want to support people whose values ​​run counter to the world I want to live in.”

But for most major media, generalist or specialist, not covering Jeanne du Barry because of the debates surrounding it was unthinkable. According to Manori Ravindran, the magazine’s international section editor Variety based in London, “The critics are doing their job, and of course they’re going to include news items in their review. Our reporters will also provide additional coverage, exploring other angles such as the relationship between Johnny Depp and France. She recalls that having all the elements in hand, and therefore seeing the film, is an essential duty for a journalist. “When you know exactly what was produced, that informs the rest of our work on this film. If we haven’t seen it ourselves, we’re going blind.”

“To talk about everything”

And some media have published reviews without mentioning the Cannes context, many of them have chosen to offer as broad and comprehensive a coverage as possible.

Matteu Maestracci covers the festival for the radio France Info. “It may seem like a way to discard, but our way of working at France Info is that we will talk about everything, and then the listener makes up his mind. That is to say that we are going to talk about the film as an object of cinema, trying to contextualize as much as possible. […] Typically, we will do a five-minute intervention in our 12 p.m.-2 p.m. slot, I will talk about the film, and I will talk about the controversy.

Telerama also chose to approach the subject from several angles. Criticism does not evoke controversybut the site published in parallel and article entitled “Cannes 2023: the malaise Johnny Depp, fallen star crowned by Maïwenn”. Maïwenn’s appearance on the “Quotidien” program also summer covered. Variety, for its part, granted an interview to Edwy Plenel regarding his assault by the filmmaker. The text appears on the front cover of the magazine.

“To try to think of Maïwenn’s film by wanting to abstract ourselves from what we know about the controversy is to be mistaken.”
Sandra Onana, journalist at Liberation

Sandra Onana wrote criticism movie for Release – which like Télérama, covered the film through a variety of angles. She explains that if “dilemmas naturally arise in editorial”, editorial choices are based onempirical trial and error on a case-by-case basis. The “problematic” situations often have nothing comparable, the questions arise in different terms each time, with no other evidence as far as I’m concerned than that of not struggling, and not pretending to have found a way we come out of this from the top.”

His review evokes both the artistic qualities of the film and the controversies that surround it. For the journalist, it could not have been otherwise: “The effort of sealing between the two is denial, if the film in question seems to comment on the very reasons for its controversy [dans le film, le personnage de Louis XV incarné par Johnny Depp est effectivement enjoint à «se repentir» et «renoncer au scandale», ndla]. Trying to think about Maïwenn’s film by wanting to abstract oneself from what we know about the controversy is to make a mistake, it is equivalent to missing what it claims to tell about opprobrium and self-righteousness. .”

Ben Croll is a Canadian critic who works freelance for several American media. Outside the capo [le texte venant juste après le titre dans un article, ndlr]who describes the film as “controversial”, he chose not to address the controversies surrounding Depp and Maïwenn in his text: “I’m spared the fact that there will be a press conference tomorrow, where the question will be asked, and someone else at Indiewire is going to cover the press conference. It removes some responsibility for me.”

For him, the desire to talk about the qualities of the feature film takes precedence over the rest: “Even if a film is never seen in nothingness, you have to try to respond to the film, and the film, casually, I liked. I’m not afraid to say that either. Even if she is someone who is problematic, in my opinion she still managed to make a film that works, and it would be very dishonest not to say that.

Inability to ignore

The Canadian journalist admits having nevertheless had difficulty in departing from the public image of Johnny Depp by watching the film. Whatever one writes, it is difficult as a journalist to look at a work while disregarding the context which surrounds it.

Kyle Buchanan is a film journalist for le New York Times. On May 16, he attended the opening ceremony of the festival, followed by the screening of Jeanne du Barry. “Any coverage I do of the film will be contextualized by the headlines surrounding the actor and director, that’s for sure. And also by the open letter of Adèle Haenel [publiée dans Télérama]which criticizes the French cinema industry.

“We give all the elements, but if I had to talk about the film and the controversy for a minute, unfortunately, I wouldn’t have the space.”
Matteu Maestracci, journalist at France Info

Matteu Maestracci, who saw the film in Paris before the festival, confirms: “As a critic, is it possible to ignore it? It’s almost impossible. It’s impossible to see the film without thinking of Maïwenn and Edwy Plenel. It’s impossible to see the film without thinking of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. And it’s impossible to watch Johnny Depp evolve on the screen without thinking about that, because in addition, his character in the film is also an echo of what he is in life.»

The whole thing being to be honest with our readership on these particular viewing conditions. “I don’t think it’s doing a filth to a film to integrate the context in which we see it into the criticism, I think we talk about it better and more justly that way”analyzed by Sandra Onana.

Question of space

For some, media coverage is driven by practical requirements. As Matteu Maestracci explains, “the radio format includes a technical constraint. If I am asked to do a minute on the film, I have little choice but to talk about the film. On the other hand, when we launch my subject, the presenter recalls the elements: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, controversy, risk of feminist demonstrations… We consider that we are giving all the elements, but if I had to talk about the film and the controversy over one minute, unfortunately, I won’t have the place.”

Michael Ghennam, deputy editor of Les Fiches du Cinéma, was commissioned to write the film’s review. He too testifies to a lack of space to address the “business” surrounding a film. All the texts of the magazine obey the same calibration: 1,900 signs of criticism, 1,500 signs of summary. With such a size, difficult to render a sometimes complex legal case, while giving an opinion on the film. As the journalist explains, whether for Maïwenn, Roman Polanski or Woody Allen, “I can’t redo a history lesson every time”.

Being able to question

The methods may differ, but all the journalists interviewed agree on one thing: it is necessary to decide on a case-by-case basis. “There are problematic people doing problematic things every day. So every day we make micro-decisions about how we interact with that. Sometimes we make the right choices, sometimes we make the wrong ones. We are all human”, admits Melissa Silverstein. The most important thing is undoubtedly to be able to question our own practices, and perhaps make them evolve.

This is Kyle Buchanan’s analysis: “I think in Cannes, like in Hollywood, there’s a tendency to value a very retro kind of glamour, and it’s easy to be seduced by that. But often these ideals go hand in hand with other retrograde ways of thinking: just look at the controversy over whether or not to wear high heels at Cannes, which has been going on for years. It’s an integral part of covering the film industry: you have to both be interested in it and be able to question it. There will always be people who use the subversive pleasures of art to excuse their own misdeeds.”

Source: Slate.fr by www.slate.fr.

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