The Last Face: Press conference with Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Charlize Theron and crew
Sean Penn faced the press in Cannes after critics generally panned his newest feature, The Last Face, starring Penn’s ex-girlfriend Charlize Theron alongside Javier Bardem. There were murmurs, chuckles then outright laughter in the audience during the opening screening, and boos rung out at the film’s conclusion. The film follows the relationship of two Western aid workers in war-torn Africa.
Producer Matt Palmieri declared Penn was “the only man to direct the film”, having “run his own NGO for the past seven years.” While for Penn, several things interested him in making a film about Western humanitarian intervention into African civil conflicts: the chance to look at “definitions of empowerment” and challenge the “strange dichotomy” in modern society where the rich are at their most comfortable but poverty and war continue to exist and, in some cases, worsen. Penn argued the modern world lacked something important: “The only genius is generosity and we see less and less of it.”
On the subject of modern conceptions of heroism, Bardem, who plays aid relief doctor Miguel Leon, stated: “Heroes are normal people who try to feed their kids with horrible salaries and unemployment.” Theron, NGO director Wren Peterson in the film, gave her opinion on aid workers who live in the midst of danger and conflict: “You can view a lot of these people who work in brutal circumstances with admiration and respect at their dedication. There’s no ego; they’re human beings. If someone said to [Theron’s character] Wren that she was hero, she would probably laugh at that.”
The supporting cast explained the various tests faced shooting such a large-scale, brutal and graphic picture. Jean Reno, who plays Dr Mehmet Love, discussed the realism involved in some of the surgical scenes: “It is difficult to believe in yourself operating on someone in the middle of the night. It didn’t feel like we were doing a movie. I surprised myself. When I saw the movie, I was like ‘wow, I’m a doctor.’” British co-star Jared Harris added: “We were quite competitive with doing our one-handed stitches.” As many critics have noted, producer-turned-actor Zubin Cooper has one of the few extended black speaking roles in the film. Cooper described the atmosphere as “so dark and heavy”. He continued: “The movie’s weight and tenor makes it so haunting. It will touch your soul.”
On managing the several big-name actors and what his aims were for the film, Penn prosaically channeled Jack Kerouac – “Someday I will find the right and they will be simple” – and stated: “The first challenge is your own ego…It is important to entertain: if entertainment is not synonymous with Donald Trump’s behaviour.” Penn discussed his wish for cinema to return to Greek tragedy: “To find beauty in things is the way to fix things. What we are calling beauty is largely a perversion of it, and that’s lamentable.” Regarding the love story between the two main characters, which many critics suggest undermines and trivialises the moral and geopolitical message of the film, Penn concluded that war “draws a certain type of people with a hunger for adrenaline. What drives them is not all altruistic, it is chemical.”
Penn, a former Cannes jury president, bemoaned the “monocultural” milieu in the US, and that coming to the festival acted as a shock to the system, joking: “Oh we’re not better than a Filipino movie”. He finished by stating that competing at the festival, unlike many other famous US directors, was important: “Being in competition is having this movie seen and responded to.”
Photos: Clemens Bilan/Getty Images
Read our review of The Last Face here.
Read more of our reviews and interviews from the festival here.
For further information about Cannes Film Festival 2016 visit here.