Near the end of Robin Hood, the new Ridley Scott movie starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, which opened the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night, King John (Oscar Isaac) looks out at the beach where the French army is landing on the English shore and declares: "That's a lot of French. What's to be done?"
It's a question facing every international star and filmmaker who comes to Cannes, though perhaps more pointedly in this revisionist version of Robin Hood, which portrays the hero as a fighter defending England from Gallic hordes. On Wednesday afternoon at the Palais du Festival, Crowe and his team faced another lot of French, as well as international reporters, for the first official press conference of the festival.
Crowe, burly in a sports jacket over an open-necked blue shirt (he crash-dieted for his role as the slightly more svelte Robin), sent his two little boys off with a nanny moments before taking his seat. The Aussie star was in gregarious, if slightly spiky form, talking about World Cup football as much as the movie, on which he also serves as a producer. ("The studio just needed someone else to blame.")
Fellow Australian Blanchett, resplendent in a pink dress and matching jacket, sat beside him with the film's two producers, Charles Schlissel and Brian Grazer. Director Scott sent a note of apology - he's off recovering from replacement knee surgery and couldn't make the date.
Crowe not only denied there was an anti-French bias to the film, but argued the opposite.
"There are a variety of French characters and it's rare to see a film with much French language in it. As well, this is the first Robin Hood that addresses how Richard the Lionheart actually died, shot through the neck by a crossbow bolt shot by a French cook. That's an important piece of history which we included and I think that explains why we're opening the Cannes festival."
He turned jocularly combative with the reporters when asked how he imagined a modern Robin Hood would behave. The new Robin, said Crowe, would be someone who understood that "wealth is the dissemination of information" and "the monopolization of the media is the greatest evil" today.
At the collective "ooh" from the audience, Crowe grinned and added, "Bonjour!"
Blanchett, who plays Marion, said her acting process seemed to be intimately connected with "mud."
"I'd start every day relatively clean, and then Ridley would find an opportunity to smear some mud on me. I wasn't sure if it was a sort of fetish thing or for the movie."
Among other revelations (the chain mail was actually light plastic), Crowe acknowledged that Robin Hood Deux is a distinct possibility.
"There was nothing cynical in this. There aren't a couple of extra scripts hiding under Ridley's hospital bed, but obviously, if this does a certain number [at the box office] perhaps we'll get a call."
MEET THE JURY
The second ritual of the Cannes Film Festival is meeting the jury - this year headed by Tim Burton, wearing blue bug shades and a salt-and-pepper beard, and responding to questions in a way that was sweet but vague.
In 2008, when Sean Penn was jury president, he declared his preference for films with a compelling political point of view. But Burton said this year's jury would be looking at films with "openness" and "compassion."
"None of us likes the terms judge and jury," he said. "We're constantly being judged and now we're being judged as judges."
Other jury members include India's Shekhar Kapur (director of Elizabeth: The Golden Age), British actress Kate Beckinsale and Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro.
Burton sidestepped anything resembling a controversy. When asked if his own 3-D movie, Alice in Wonderland, was somehow the antithesis of a Cannes art film, he said, no, he believed all kinds of films should be supported: "That's what I'm excited about - seeing films that I would be unlikely to be a part of."
He also slipped a loaded question about two imprisoned directors: Iran's Jafar Panahi, who is in a prison for making films critical of his government and supporting the opposition, and Roman Polanski, under house arrest in Switzerland facing possible extradition to the United States for sentencing for having illicit sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
"Of course, we're all for free expression," said Burton. "The simple answer is you should be free to express yourself."