This year, with Harrison Ford in town and Martin Scorsese returning to the main palace nearly a half-century after his 1976 Palme d’Or win for “Taxi Driver,” even the most jaded viewers generated some interest in these titles. And the spectacle of seeing mega-star The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye) on the red carpet was hard to avoid.
The pop star came to Cannes with two episodes of Sam Levinson’s HBO pop production “The Idol,” starring Lily-Rose Depp as Jocelyn, a Britney Spears-like star whose mother has recently died, leaving the performer fragile and uncertain. The much-talked-about opening sequence is a close-up of Depp’s face as an off-camera photographer shouts out emotions for her to portray. We see subtle shifts in her face as she moves from one phase to another, an exercise that inadvertently echoes a scene from last year’s Palme winner, “Triangle of Sadness,” which gave the emotional moment a meta-textual sense of ridiculousness considering the screening taking place at this fest.
From there, we plunge into the world of excess, seduction, and railing against a controlling system where the artist wishes to lean into a more seductive and stripped-down mode. “The Idol” is about exposure in all meanings of the word, and when the on-screen intimacy coordinator is quite literally locked away so that the star can make her own decision and reveal as much as she wants, we know we’re in for something a bit brash.
When Jocelyn meets up with club owner Tedros (Tesfaye), she’s drawn into his orbit, channeling self-harm into sexual fetishization and succoring on his vampiric charms. Unfortunately, Tesfaye is pretty terrible on screen, flat and aimless. While his story and musical contributions are integral to the telling of the tale (let alone the fact that they used his Bel Air mansion as the show’s prime location), there’s not much from these early episodes to recommend about his turgid performance.
Depp, however, makes the most of the role. Thanks to members of her retinue played by the likes of Hank Azaria, Jane Adams, Dan Levy, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Rachel Sennott, as well as real-life pop stars like Jennie Ruby Jane (aka “Jennie Kim”/”Jennie”), her work feels like far more than an excuse for simply another salacious HBO drama focused on the nakedness of body versus the complexities of character.
It’s an odd tease to play as part of the festival, but hardly unique. This is but one way the red-carpet premieres can generate global attention; the varied experiences at this festival are always manifold. Fans screamed for “The Idol” as the superstars mounted the stage, as opposed to the four-hour Chinese documentary on poverty by Wang Bing playing in competition that didn’t have quite the same sizzle or must-crash after-party. And while the final call on “The Idol” will be made at the show’s conclusion, its story of shame, frustration, horniness, and hopelessness underlying obnoxious excess and overly-produced-and-packaged pop culture may provide a deeper reflection of the current state of affairs than the laconic art fare premiering across town.