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Black Flies and war in Ukraine: the projects of Sean Penn, still at the top of his art

Interviewing Sean Penn is not a simple formality.

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Black Flies and war in Ukraine: the projects of Sean Penn, still at the top of his art

Interviewing Sean Penn is not a simple formality. In forty years of career, the American star has built such a reputation, through his escapades and his commitments, that when we go to find him, we are always in his little shoes. Last example, during the last Cannes Film Festival. The old lion presented in official competition Black Flies, the dark and gripping thriller by French director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire. With his legendary acting power and a poignant, disillusioned side, the actor plays an emergency paramedic damaged by his years of night duty in the underbelly of New York. He teams up with a young recruit played by the talented Tye Sheridan.

While heavy rain falls on the tepee in which we have been installed, on the terrace of the Palais des Festivals, we wait quietly for the star to finish his lunch with Thierry Frémaux and Harrison Ford. When he arrives, at the appointed time, his lean and muscular body says as much about the intensity of his personality as his half-seductive, half-creepy look. From Black Flies, which recalls To Tomb Open, with Nicolas Cage in the role of the ambulance driver, Sean Penn salutes the talent of the director: “I cannot say if the fact that he is French gives a different take on this new story -yorkish but Jean-Stéphane certainly has a real vision, as a filmmaker.”

He then praises the subject, highlighting ordinary heroes: These are the kinds of films I like to see and want to be involved in. Regarding his investment, he says it in full: Tye and I arrived on site two and a half months before the filming to learn the work from real paramedics, and we trained together, on mannequins to perfectly master first aid gestures. » He is full of praise for his partner: He is a leader who knows how to express his creative spirit and with whom we can question each other. On a human level, he is a man attentive to others, a confidant who knows how to cheer people up. As for the critics, describing a “punching film”, he welcomes it: “I like to feel that all the films in which I participate, in whatever capacity, and of which I am proud of the result, provoke a reaction unexpected. I can say then that they had an impact.

The time has come for him to tackle the other major project that has occupied him for many months: Superpower, a documentary started at the dawn of the war in Ukraine. “I first met Volodymyr Zelensky on February 23, 2022, the day before Russia invaded his country. Overnight, this man became a head of state at war, Putin’s main target and I had never seen such courage in anyone.” Presented at the Berlinale, broadcast on Ukrainian television and in a few countries via the internet, this documentary which he co-signed with Aaron Kaufman is still awaiting a broadcaster in France.

Invested even in the distribution, Sean Penn nevertheless had to leave it to the producers to take care of it: Paul Thomas Anderson was waiting for him on his set to opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in what appears to be the most anticipated project, but also the most enigmatic of 2025. No synopsis, no title, but a clue dropped by the Deadline site: it would be the most commercial film attempted by Paul Thomas Anderson with a substantial budget. The opportunity for Sean Penn to reunite with the filmmaker, two years after Licorice pizza, and to maintain, at 63, his place among the most influential actors in the seventh art.

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