Returning to the Cannes Film Festival with director Martin Scorsese 47 years after they won the Palme d’Or for “Taxi Driver” was “perfect,” “Killers of the Flower Moon” star Robert De Niro said on Sunday afternoon at the Cannes press conference for the film.
“It was perfect,” De Niro said. “We haven’t been here since 1976. [It feels] ancient. It was nice being back in this way.”
Saturday night, the three-and-a-half-hour epic played to rapturous reactions at its star-studded premiere. On Sunday, Scorsese and De Niro joined stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone, as well as Osage Nation Chief Standing Bear (a consultant on the movie) to talk to the press about the film that deals with the real-life murders of Osage people by white men trying to take the money they’d made when oil was discovered on the land given to them by the U.S. government.
“It was the culmination of years of work and extraordinary warmth, I think came from the heart,” said Scorsese with regards to the emotions he felt after the film’s ecstatic reception.
“I feel gratitude,” remarked Native American actress Gladstone, a standout who received her own thunderous ovation after the premiere. “Having all of the people that are representing this film here together in so many different ways felt very just.”
The key, said star and executive producer DiCaprio, was getting the support of the Osage Nation when making the film. “It felt like a very important moment, especially how the Osage community embraced us telling this story, gave us the trust in our adaptation of the novel,” he said. “To have them here with us side-by-side, to tell such a personal tragedy to their entire community was a beautiful moment. We took great pride in being able to tell this story as best as we could.”
That great care the filmmakers and cast took in telling the story was the main theme of the panel. “Early on, I asked Mr. Scorsese, ‘How are you going to approach the story?’” Chief Standing Bear said. “And he said, ‘I’m going to tell the story about trust: trust between Mollie and Ernest [the characters played by Gladstone and DiCaprio], trust between the outside world and the Osage, and the betrayal of that trust.’”
“My people suffered greatly. And to this day, those effects are with us,” Chief Standing Bear continued. “But I can say Scorsese and his team have restored trust, and we know that trust will not be betrayed.”
Scorsese and his collaborators didn’t want to make the film from the point of view of the FBI — the story was never to be a whodunit, but who didn’t do it. “We went after the screenplay almost from an anthropological perspective,” DiCaprio said. “Marty was there every day. We were talking to the community, trying to hear the real stories and trying to incorporate the truth as best as we possibly could.”
Gladstone added, “These artistic souls on the stage here cared about telling a story that pierces the veil of what society tells us we’re supposed to care about. You were there as a human being, not as somebody who was studying people. And there’s no other way to tell these stories.”
In his remarks at the end of Saturday night’s premiere, Scorsese talked about living and working on Osage land in Oklahoma during the shoot, and how much he missed it since finishing the movie. “I found that their values were so important to me, and it reoriented me every time they spoke,” he said. “It just reoriented me as to what we’re doing here. We’re making a movie, yes, but also what we’re doing here on earth.”
Praising his director, DicCaprio remarked, “Marty’s perseverance and his ferocity in wanting to tell the truth about these stories, no matter how ugly, no matter how bizarre, no matter how uncomfortable is his mastery. And he’s continuing to make these incredible movies that tell important stories. I’m just constantly in awe of his ability to continue telling the truth.”
Much of the ugliness of the story is embodied in De Niro’s character, a baron named William Hale who orders many of the killings after creating trust with the Osage. “I don’t understand my character,” De Niro said. “I don’t understand a lot about him. But you know, people do things. He has to be charming. He has to win people over. Why he betrays them in this way, I have no [idea]. He has a feeling of entitlement.”
Then the famously political actor tied his bad guy to a more recent rich mogul. “I mean, look, with Trump, we see what that is,” he said. “And there are people who think that he could do a good job. Imagine that.”