'The Idol' scandalises Cannes with kink and toxic fame

The 76th Cannes Film Festival - Screening of the TV series 'The Idol' Out of Competition - Red Carpet Arrivals - Cannes, France, 22 May, 2023. Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye, Lily-Rose Depp and Sam Levinson pose.Reuters

Cannes festivalgoers got a peek at the first episodes of new HBO series ‘The Idol’, which shocked critics on Tuesday with its overtly sexual scenes.

Hollywood megastars have swarmed the French Riviera film festival since it kicked off a week ago, and Scarlett Johansson and Tom Hanks are set to attend the premiere of ‘Asteroid City’ on Tuesday.

It is the latest concoction from the king of quirkiness, Wes Anderson, whose tale of a remote Western town being visited by an alien has a celeb-packed cast that also includes Steve Carell and Edward Norton.

But the festival was still digesting its late-night screening of the first two episodes of ‘The Idol’, HBO's new series starring Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of Johnny Depp.

A pop star struggling to get back on track after a public breakdown, surrounded by heartless handlers, she meets the manipulative leader of a modern-day cult, played by musician Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye.

A leaked revenge porn shot of Depp with semen on her face is seen as a pathway to more fame, with a mention of reality star Kim Kardashian, and there is a significant nod to Britney Spears and the toxic fame that engulfed 90s female pop stars.

"When you're famous, everyone lies to you," Depp says, between two raunchy masturbation scenes and dozens of shots of her breasts.

Feeling a loss of control over her art, Tesfaye's character starts to lure her in, despite her best friend and assistant warning her he is "so rapey".

"I kinda like that about him," says Depp's character.

'Tawdry cliches'

The series received a modest five-minute ovation, and while Depp's performance was praised, most critics were put off by the excessive kink -- which included some graphic dirty talk.

Variety slammed its "tawdry cliches" and said the show "plays like a sordid male fantasy" with any effort to depict female sexuality in a revolutionary way going "too far".

Deadline said it was "hard to know what to say" about the show, adding one would need to see where it was going to make judgements about the male gaze.

‘The Idol’ had already been plagued by rumours of onset turmoil and graphic sex scenes before its release.

Variety reported that the show needed major re-writes and re-shoots and switched director midway through, bringing in ‘Euphoria’ creator Sam Levinson.

It does, however, bring yet another complex female character to Cannes, which has served up plenty of films exploring the dark side of women and making their stories the focus.

Race for the Palme

The world's leading industry extravaganza has entered its second and final week, and the competition for the main prize, the Palme D'Or, is heating up.

On Sunday, Jude Law awed and disgusted cinemagoers with his portrayal of King Henry VIII in ‘Firebrand’.

There are still movies to come from past winners, Britain's Ken Loach and Germany's Wim Wenders among others.

An early front-runner from the first week is British director Jonathan Glazer's ‘The Zone of Interest’, a unique and horrifying look at the private life of a Nazi officer working at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

There was also a lot of love for Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore's ‘May December’, which looks at the relationship between an older woman and a schoolboy, still married years after their relationship became a tabloid scandal.

The festival has seen major out-of-competition world premieres for ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ and Martin Scorsese's ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’, which received rave reviews over the weekend.

And Lily-Rose's controversial father, Johnny Depp, made a splash at the festival, appearing as French King Louis XV in opening film ‘Jeanne du Barry’.

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