JEDDAH: The ongoing Red Sea International Film Festival played host to Hollywood star Johnny Depp as he graced the MENA premiere of "Jeanne Du Barry," a French historical drama directed by French actress and filmmaker Maïwenn, who also stars in the film.
The festival's second day unfolded with the screening of this opulent portrayal of the life of Jeanne du Barry, a working-class courtesan, featuring Depp as French king Louis XV.
During the festival's third day, Depp expressed his admiration for RSIFF, praising the Kingdom for opening up various expressive and creative outlets, emphasizing on its thriving youth culture.
“I believe that what's happening here in in Saudi with regards to various sort of expressive outlets, creative outlets – art, cinema everything – is opening up sort of beautifully. I also think that since opening up, like giving more opportunity to anyone and everyone. What seems to be really thriving beautifully here is youth culture,” he said to Arab News.
Depp found inspiration in the festival's theme, "Your Story, Your Festival," believing it instills hope and confidence in aspiring filmmakers.
Reflecting on his previous visit to Saudi Arabia, where he attended the MDLBeast music festival, Depp said, “It was like having some drape taken away from my eyes.”
He expressed enthusiasm about the expanding landscape of the filmmaking industry in the kingdom, praising its beauty, mystery, and rich history.
Depp told Arab News, “Just the idea of shooting the film here. It's so beautiful. And there's such mystery, there's so many beautiful vistas and visually stunning but the history… the history that's here is fascinating.”
“I would come here happily to make a film. The word artist is not one that I use for myself, but you can use it for filmmakers. And everybody seems to understand the artists’ lane,” he said.
The film takes audiences on a journey into the court of Louis XV, where the king becomes infatuated with Jeanne du Barry, a courtesan introduced by an ambitious count seeking royal favor.
Depp delivers a mesmerizing performance as Louis, displaying desiccated charisma, while Maïwenn expertly embodies Jeanne, a woman with wit, intellect, and ambitions of her own. The narrative unfolds into a genuinely devoted partnership, marked by real power, until Louis's demise leads to Jeanne's downfall.
In an interview with Arab News, filmmaker Maïwenn shared her deep connection with her character.
“I have spent years dedicating my time reading about her, all her memories, major events, famous sentences. I know everything by word," she told Arab News.
Maïwenn's dedication to the character spans 16 years, creating a film that she describes as a liberating experience, allowing her subconscious to roam freely.
Intrigued by the multifaceted nature of Louis XV, Depp delved into the intricacies of portraying a monarch who had to adapt to different roles within the royal court and on the international stage.
He said during the interview that it was a quite an unusual concept to play a role in French, and his immediate thought was that perhaps a French actor would be more fitting for the role, considering the context.
Despite initial reservations about playing a French character, especially in French, Depp embraced the challenge under Maïwenn's encouragement.
RSIFF extended post-production assistance for the historical drama, marking the foundation's inaugural venture into co-producing a French film. The movie celebrated its global debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
During the festival's opening night on Nov.30, Depp was in attendance alongside notable figures such as Will Smith, Michelle Williams, Diane Kruger, Maya Diab, Alessandra Ambrosio, Aseel Omran, and many others. It was a memorable and star-studded event.
The Red Sea International Film Festival continues to Dec. 9 and boasts 11 categories of films: Special Screenings; Red Sea: Competition; Red Sea: Shorts Competition; Festival Favorites; Arab Spectacular; International Spectacular; New Saudi/ New Cinema: Shorts; Red Sea: New Vision; Red Sea: Families and Children; Red Sea: Series and Red Sea: Treasures.