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Cannes 2023: Highlights of the first days

May 22, 2023

Cannes welcomed legendary stars like Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett to the red carpet, as well as 11-year-old Aswan Reid.

Cannes Filmfestival 2023  - Cast - "Killers of the Flower Moon"

Never have there been so many female directors in competition: seven of the 21 films were made by women, including newcomers and long-established auteurs. But over the first few days of the 76th film festival on the Cote d'Azur, the focus was on veteran stars such as Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp and Michael Douglas. And fans thronged the red carpet on the first weekend of the festival when Leonardo DiCaprio made his appearance. 

Here's a look at some of the big moments of the festival’s first few days: 

The cast of "Killers of the Flower Moon" pose in formal clothing for photographers at the Cannes Film festival on May 20, 2023. L-R: Jillian Dio, Tantoo Cardinal, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Janae Collins.
Leonardo DiCaprio posed on the Cannes red carpet with his female co-starsImage: SARAH MEYSSONNIER/REUTERS

DiCaprio was in Cannes for the premiere of his latest film with director Martin Scorsese, "Killers of the Flower Moon." The western true-crime thriller also stars Robert DeNiro and Lily Gladstone, who also appeared in "Certain Women." Based on a non-fiction book by US journalist David Grann, Scorsese's three-and-a-half-hour epic got a standing ovation and has received high praise from critics. 

Osage Nation said to have been consulted

Set in the US state of Oklahoma, the film is about the murders there of members of the indigenous Osage in the early 1920s. The story focuses on the Osage woman Mollie Burkhart, played by Gladstone, and her white husband, played by DiCaprio. The Osage gained unexpected wealth at that time when oil was discovered on the land they had been allowed to settle on, a possible motive for the murders. Director Scorsese has been praised for closely involving the Osage Nation in the production of the film. 

The cast and director of "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" pose at a photocall at the Cannes film festival on May 18, 2023.
Indiana Jones back and better than ever: Harrison Ford (second from left) says this will be his last jaunt as the swashbuckling achaeologistImage: Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP/picture alliance

"Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny," the fifth part of the legendary film series — which launched in 1981 — premiered out of competition at Cannes. The film's 80-year-old star, Harrison Ford, also received a surprise honorary Palme d'Or award for lifetime achievement. He says this will be his last jaunt as the adventuring archaeologist with a fedora hat and whip. "Is it not evident?," the actor joked. "I need to sit down and rest a little bit." 

Unearthing Nazi loot

And in the film, Indiana Jones, too, wants to retire, but is determined to unearth a mysterious artifact and fight the Nazis. Ford's co-stars include Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas and Mads Mikkelsen as the bad guy —  and newcomer Ethann Isidore. The 16-year-old has a main role, and he says he got a lot of support from Ford, who advised him to simply forget the camera.  

Johnny Depp, left, and director Maiwenn, wearing sunglasses, pose for photographers at the photo call for the film 'Jeanne du Barry' at the 76th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, May 17, 2023.
Actor Johnny Depp and his co-star and director, MaiwennImage: Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP/picture alliance/dpa

These two actors opened the 76th Film Festival with the French historical drama "Jeanne du Barry," which takes as its subject the love affair between the titular courtesan and the French king Louis XV. It's Johnny Depp's first film release since the media spectacle surrounding his divorce from ex-wife Amber Heard, and the defamation trial that followed Heard's allegations of domestic violence. 

Chiara Mastroianni, left, and Catherine Deneuve, both wearing long evening gowns, onstage at the Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2023.
Mother-daughter team: Mistress of ceremonies Chiara Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve at the Cannes festival opening ceremonyImage: David Niviere/ABACAPRESS/picture alliance/dpa

French legends

It's just not Cannes without Catherine! French acting legend Catherine Deneuve also made an appearance at the festival, giving the official opening speech. She also recited a Ukrainian poem titled "Hope." Ukraine itself is not represented at Cannes this year. Festival director Thierry Fremaux said that while films are still being produced in the country; none was submitted for consideration this year.

The opening ceremony was moderated by Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Catherine Deneuve and the late Italian star Marcello Mastroianni.  

Michael Douglas makes a camera frame with his hands at a photo call at the Cannes film festival, southern France, May 16, 2023.
A life in film: Michael Douglas won a lifetime achievement awardImage: Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP/picture alliance/dpa

Another acting legend, Michael Douglas, also received a Palme d'Or for lifetime achievement. While accepting the award, Douglas noted that, at 78, he is two years older than the festival, and called the award "an incredible honor," saying, "There is only one Cannes."

The festival directors had proudly announced before the opening that the competition program featured more women directors than ever before. That's factually correct, with seven of 21 directors being women, but it's still only one-third of the total this year. The festival is slowly working towards fulfilling a commitment to equal representation. In 2021, only four women directors had films in the competition, and in 2022, there were five. 

One of those women directors in this year's festival is Justine Triet, whose film "Sibyl" ran in the 2019 Cannes competition. This year, she's at the festival with the well-reviewed "Anatomy of a Fall," which stars German actress Sandra Hüller, best known for playing the title role in the 2016 international hit film "Toni Erdmann" She also plays the lead in another Cannes competition film, "The Zone of Interest." 

L-R: Producers Ewa Puszczynska and James Wilson, director Jonathan Glazer, and cast members Sandra Huller and Christian Friedel, all dressed in formal clothing, post on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2023
Holocaust drama "The Zone of Interest" is a top favorite to win this year's Palme d'OrImage: Yara Nardi/REUTERS

"The Zone of Interest" takes place outside the walls of the Auschwitz extermination camp. Director Jonathan Glazer shot his Holocaust drama on location near the former camp. The film is based on the 2014 novel of the same name by British writer Martin Amis , who died at his home in the US the day of the film's premiere.

Glazer's adaptation is heavily favored at this point in the competition to win the main prize. The US entertainment industry magazine "Variety" wrote after the premiere that Glazer had "just delivered the first instant sensation of the 2023 Cannes Film festival."

This article was originally written in German.