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Cast defends graphic 'The Idol' series that shocked Cannes

By Fran BLANDY / AFP Published May 24, 2023 10:02 am

The cast of new HBO series The Idol on Tuesday, May 23 defended its overtly sexual scenes and rejected rumors of onset turmoil, after the show scandalized critics at Cannes.

"We know we are making a show that is provocative, it's not lost on us," director Sam Levinson told journalists the day after the series premiered at the film festival on the French Riviera.

The show depicts Lily-Rose Depp as a pop star struggling to get back on track after a breakdown, surrounded by heartless handlers, when she meets the manipulative leader of a modern-day cult, played by musician Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye.

While Depp's performance was praised as "riveting," many critics felt a plethora of sexual scenes—including nudity, kinky masturbation, and graphic dirty talk—went too far.

"I think that sometimes things that might be revolutionary are taken a bit too far," said Euphoria creator Levinson, commenting on the "very sexualized world" we live in, the influence of pornography, and the underbelly of the internet.

The series—which gives a nod to Britney Spears and toxic fame that engulfed '90s pop stars—brings yet another complex female character to Cannes, which has served up plenty of films exploring the dark side of women.

"The bareness of the character physically mirrors the bareness we get to see emotionally. I have never felt more involved in those kinds of conversations," Depp said of her character's nudity.

'Sordid male fantasy'

Tesfaye—who also produced the show and announced earlier this month he was scrapping his stage name The Weeknd—describes his character who tries to lure the popstar in as "Dracula."

The series received a modest five-minute ovation, but most critics were put off by the excessive sexuality.

Variety slammed its "tawdry cliches" and said the show "plays like a sordid male fantasy.

"One could argue there's something revolutionary in the way Levinson depicts female sexuality... but Levinson takes things too far in the other direction."

"Until we know more, it's hard to make value judgments about morality and ethics, or, more substantively, the arguments about the male gaze and female body rights," wrote Deadline.

The Idol had been plagued by rumors of onset turmoil and graphic sex scenes before its release.

Depp said the accusations were "not reflective at all of my experience shooting the show," while actress Jane Adams said it was "one of the best creative experiences I have ever had."

Race for the Palme

Hollywood megastars have swarmed the French Riviera since the festival kicked off a week ago, and Scarlett Johansson and Tom Hanks are set to attend the premiere of Asteroid City on Tuesday, May 23.

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. 

The competition for the main prize at Cannes, the Palme D'Or, is heating up.

On Sunday, May 21, 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. (AFP)