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“Taking risk at this age, what else can I do?” Martin Scorsese said Sunday at the Cannes press conference for Killers of the Flower Moon, which had its world premiere last night here.
The director appeared with stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone and the leader of the Osage Nation, Chief Standing Bear, to talk about how they aimed to bring attention to the atrocities that occurred in the oil-rich Osage nation in the early 1920s, which was in the vicinity of the Black Wall Street massacre.
De Niro drew a parallel to what occurred with the Osage nation to the recent George Floyd tragedy, which took place during the Donald Trump presidential administration. The Oscar winner has often blasted Trump.
Commenting on his Killers of the Flower Moon character William Hale, a lynchpin in the Osage Tulsa society who appeared as a friend to the people but was their foe, De Niro added, “I don’t understand a lot about my character. People do things. He has to be charming. Why does he betray them all?”
“After George Floyd with systemic racism — that’s what it is — what happens there; what we never knew of the Black Street Massacre, it’s the banality of evil. It’s the things to we have to watch out for,” the Oscar winner said.
Then drawing a laser on Trump, he added: “We see it today, we all know how I’m going to talk about — but that guy is stupid. Hale was smart in many ways, but it’s systemic.”
“Look with Trump, there are people who think he can do a good job,” De Niro blasted.
DiCaprio, who plays Ernest Burkhart in the movie — he becomes embroiled as a culprit in the massacre and falls for Lily Gladstone’s Osage native, Mollie — said, “What Marty does incredible well, is that he expresses the most twisted, sinister character you can ever imagine, and bring out the human condition.”
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When Scorsese wanted to adapt David Grann’s novel, Chief Standing Bear encouraged the filmmaker to make sure he was going to tell a story about trust and betrayal between Mollie and Earnest. “My people suffered great, those effects are with us. I can say on behalf of the Osage, Martin Scorsese has restored trust,” said Chief Standing Bear to great applause in the Cannes media room.
Originally, DiCaprio was going to play the federal agent in the film, Tom White, portrayed by Jesse Plemmons. However, the actor kept asking Scorsese where the heart of the story was. Scorsese, after extensive meetings with the Osage Nation, became inspired to write about Earnest, the character who was the least written about in a tale of tragedy, love and betrayal.
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Gladstone praised Scorsese and DiCaprio for their “artistic souls” in caring about the Osage Nation’s issues, a gesture that transcends what many anthropologists do.
“Turning the big lens, the most golden lens onto areas of our communities — we’re speaking about the 1920s Black Wall Street and Tulsa. We’re talking about a lot of that in our film. Why does the world not know about these things? Our communities always have,” said the actress.
She turned to DiCaprio during the press conference saying that the actor approached the situation “as a human being, not as a person studying.”
Just as he’s made a movie about a set of people encroaching on another’s, Scorsese was asked to comment about the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s aggression.
“Obviously, I’m very nervous about the aggression of Russia, I’m very nervous about that whole area….the younger generation doesn’t remember WWII, they don’t remember the Balkan nations and what happened there between Poland, Russians and Germans and the 18th century with Poland and Napoleon. The area has always been contested,” said the director.
“There’s a sense to support the countries that are trying for some democratic process. It has to do with the value of how you live. Freedom to speak is the most important, really. It doesn’t mean yelling fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire, but the freedom to express yourself and live a life,” Scorsese added.
The last time Scorsese was in Cannes with a world premiere was 1985 with After Hours, for which he won Best Director. Of the movies that premiered here at Cannes are 1983’s The King of Comedy, 1975’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and 1976’s Taxi Driver which won the Palme d’Or.
Out of the gate here at Cannes, Killers of the Flower Moon is 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes from 27 reviews. The pic received the longest standing ovation so far at the 76th Cannes, clocking in at nine minutes.