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Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore Sex Scandal Drama ‘May December’ Heats Up Cannes With 6-Minute Standing Ovation

Todd Haynes brought delicious psychodrama to the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday, with the world premiere of his “May December” starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore. Captivating the Cannes crowd the film earned a 6-minute standing ovation at the festival’s Grand Palais.

As a TV star looking to up her indie cred with a film role playing Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman’s relentless method acting and probing for secrets delighted the black tie screening. Moore, as an unraveling town pariah who gave birth to her first child while behind bars for statutory rape, scored big laughs for her bristling over a celebrity going through her dirty laundry.

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A breakout dramatic turn by “Riverdale” star Charles Melton — as well as an unexpectedly effective score that borders on something out of a horror film— made the late night screening the perfect antidote to the heavy premiere that preceded it: Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

“May December” stars Portman as Elizabeth, an actor who heads to Savannah to study the lives of Gracie (Moore) and Joe (Melton). Years prior, Gracie and Joe’s scandalous cross-generational affair sparked a national controversy due to their age gap and the fact that Gracie was Joe’s boss at a local pet store. Twenty years later, Elizabeth is playing Gracie in a film version of the scandal, but her arrival puts a disruptive pressure on Gracie and Joe’s marriage.

In an interview with Variety head of Cannes, Melton described “May December” as a “complex, compounded, voyeuristic experience of the human condition.”

“We really get a lens into our characters Joe and Gracie,” he added. “They’ve been in an unconventional relationship for a very long time, and the arrival of Natalie’s character serves as a catalyst for certain awakenings.”

Haynes has a long history with the Cannes Film Festival. He debuted at the festival in 1998 with “Velvet Goldmine,” which won a prize for best artistic contribution, and later returned with “Carol” (2015) and “Wonderstruck” (2017). “Carol” was greeted with a 10-minute standing ovation after its Cannes debut, and star Rooney Mara went on to win the best actress prize at the festival.

“May December” is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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