Cannes 2022: James Franco, Kevin Spacey and Other Make a Comeback

From a cramped hotel suite in a luxury Cannes hotel, a pair of film executives are trying to pull off an unlikely feat: Sell distribution rights to Kevin Spacey’s comeback film. Vantage Media International (or VMI), a Hollywood-based firm that sells movies mainly to foreign markets, showed a print of the noir drama on May 17. Peter Five Eight to would-be buyers willing to take a gamble on the two-time Oscar winner’s first leading role since his career came to a grinding halt in 2017 amid accusations of sexual misconduct.

“The feedback is very good. People say it’s a quality film,”J.D., president of VMI sales. Beuafils. “But it’s really, really early on [in the deal-making].”

You will find a room stuffed with VMI film marketing materials. Randy Rhoads – Reflections of a Guitar IconThe Sam Worthington-Machine Gun Kelly Western The Last Son, the company’s COO Jessica Bennett offers an equally vague assessment when asked if the screening here in the South of France was well attended. “I don’t do headcounts,”She says. “I just pop in, make sure that the film plays and looks good, and then I walk out.”

The fact that there was an audience at all for the film — which boasts the tagline “The Guilty Always Pay the Price” — could be considered a coup for VMI, given Spacey’s pariah status in Hollywood. After at least 16 people came forward in late 2017 alleging lewd and inappropriate behavior on the part of the actor toward young men on sets, he was quickly dropped from the final season of Netflix’s House of CardsEdited out of the Sony film All the Money in the World. He hasn’t been seen onscreen since. However, in an era where so many careers have disappeared following #MeToo scandals worldwide, foreign markets have proven to have been more accepting of disgraced movie stars as well as filmmakers. Woody Allen’s Rainy Day in New YorkAmazon dropped the case in 2018 after resurfacing allegations that he had sexually assaulted Dylan Farrow’s daughter. However, it was able to find a home in many countries, from China to Poland. In 2019, accused rapist Nate Parker’s American SkinAt the Venice Film Festival, it was awarded a prize. Likewise, Roman Polanksi’s A Spy and an Officer won multiple Cesar Awards – France’s Oscars equivalent – in 2020, including a best director nod for the man who admitted back in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in L.A. (then fled to France before he could be sentenced for his crime).  

So, following precedent, there is no shortage of projects featuring the scandal-plagued on the market at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The movie about a corrupt cop MaceStar James Franco, whose career plunged after a 2018 Los Angeles Times exposé in which five women accused him of sexually exploitative behavior. John and JuneThis low-budget romance was shot by Luc Besson. La Femme Nikita director who’s been accused of rape by several actresses. Polanski is looking to make a new movie. It’s a Swiss-set drama called The PalaceThe film, which stars Mickey Rourke, is still being produced.

One film that could be a hit with American distributors would be False AwakeningThe psychological thriller “The Other Side” stars Alec Baldwin. It marks the embattled actor’s first project since he fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in a prop-gun accident on the set of another movie, Rust, last October. Chris Charalambous is a domestic buyer at Entertainment StudiosHe will probably buy half-dozen Cannes films, and he says he would be open to taking a chance on the film.

“I believe [the Rust shooting] in no way involved any malice on Alec Baldwin’s part with the tragic incident that happened on set, so I would not discount or avoid [that] project,”Charalambous claims. However, when it comes to working with predators alleged, he says, “I think it’s something we would continue to stay away from at this juncture.”

According to another top buyer, “It’s already so hard to release a movie. Why take a risk on a project where the conversation around the movie won’t be about the movie itself?”

Despite public outrage Hollywood’s decision-makers are influenced more by European criticism than Hollywood. International sales outfit Wild Bunch, which has long championed polarizing projects (think Gaspar Noe’s 2002 drama It is irreversibleThe controversial nine-minute rape scene was part of the film. There are now two Cannes projects featuring the prominent accused. The Paris-based company is shepherding Dario Argento’s thriller Dark glassesThe film stars his daughter Asia Argento. The 2018 edition of the New York TimesAccording to reports, the actress-director abused actor Jimmy Bennett while he was still under the legal age for consent. Wild Bunch’s slate also includes the period drama Jeanne Du Barry, which will see Johnny Depp — currently battling ex-wife Amber Heard in a Virginia court amid allegations of domestic abuse from both sides — portray King Louis XV. Wild Bunch also hired Ron Meyer, an exile Hollywood mogul who was fired in 2020 by NBCUniversal for having an undisclosed sexual relationship to actress Charlotte Kirk as a teen. This was a noteworthy move.

Even the financiers are not being scrutinized. Few in Cannes have batted an eye at the fact that Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch who has been sanctioned in the U.K. and much of Europe over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is a backer of the well-received romantic drama Tchaikovsky’s Wife. Festival chief Thierry Frémaux explained the decision to allow Tchaikovsky’s WifeIn the Cannes lineup, you can declare during a press conference “We have a different position from that of France or the European Commission.”

This laissez-faire approach seems to also extend to the Saudi Film Commission. It has returned to the festival after being absent since the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi — a crime that U.S. intelligence attributed to Saudi government agents. Members of the Saudi delegation were in Cannes to book meetings with other members to promote Saudi Arabia as a production destination. This includes cinematic locations like deserts, mountains, and beaches along the Red Sea, as well the money and infrastructure needed to offer the best of all. 

“Now that Russian money is off-limits, Saudi money is back in,”One producer laughed at the festival.

As for projects from scandal-plagued stars or filmmakers, Europe may continue to provide a safe haven — and perhaps even a road to redemption for the canceled. Spacey actually has a second project in Cannes: the historical drama 1242 — Gateway to the West, a U.K./Hungarian/Mongolian co-production that will see him play a priest in a film about Genghis Khan’s grandson. 

Peter Five Eight producer Michael Hall, for his part, downplayed any concerns about his star’s bad press. “[Kevin is] a controversial figure, but our perspective as filmmakers was to find the best talent for this film, and there’s literally no one on planet Earth who can play the character of Peter better than Kevin,”Hall tells Rolling Stone. “That’s why our perspective is just focusing on the film, focusing on the talent.”

It’s a sentiment that echoes what few in Hollywood have dared to express publicly, but for Taxi driverPaul Schrader, screenwriter, succinctly stated Spacey’s story in 2021: “If he’s guilty of a crime, incarcerate him. If not, let him act.”

 

 

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