Francis Ford Coppola teases 'Godfather' update, criticizes Hollywood studios at Cannes

In the face of the criticism, controversy and uncertain financial prospects swirling around his self-financed speculative epic “Megalopolis,” Francis Ford Coppola met the press at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday with a good-natured shrug.

“I don’t care. I never cared,” the 85-year-old filmmaker said when asked about the reported $120 million fortune he sunk into the film. “The money doesn’t matter. What’s important are friends.”

Those friends, along with sister Talia Shire, son Roman Coppola and granddaughter Romy Mars, flanked “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” filmmaker on the dais and in the making of the film, on which he credited his cast and crew as co-directors — and star Adam Driver as one of its most active co-editors.

As for Hollywood, which has largely scratched its head at “Megalopolis” according to reports on early screenings for potential buyers, the director had less friendly words.

“The job is not so much to make good movies, the job is to make sure that they pay their debt obligations,” said Coppola, who would be open to distributing the film via streaming platform but would prefer a theatrical release. “It might be that the studios that we knew for so long — some wonderful ones — are not going to be here in the future.” (The film will have an IMAX release, a representative confirmed to The Times on Thursday, but the specifics remain unclear until it secures U.S. distribution.)

“Megalopolis” stars Driver as ambitious architect and inventor Cesar Catilina, who hopes to use his discovery of a powerful new “miracle” material, Megalon, to create a utopia, Megalopolis, in place of the decaying New Rome (think contemporary New York City with a Caesar haircut). Arrayed against him are Mayor Franklyn Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito), a machine politician desperate to protect his status; Clodio Pulcher (Shia LaBoeuf), the dissolute grandson of a business magnate who turns to violent populism to shore up his power; and Catilina’s ex-mistress, amoral fame-seeker Wow Platinum (Aubrey Plaza), who teams up with Pulcher to get her revenge.

But “Megalopolis” is in fact much, much stranger than the above synopsis — or even the name Wow Platinum — could begin to suggest. One scene features a person with a microphone walking onto the stage of the cinema and posing a question to Driver during a press conference onscreen, which the actor proceeds to answer.

Driver, Plaza, Esposito, narrator Laurence Fishburne and Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays Catilina’s love interest, all suggested that the creative process mimicked the film’s unpredictability.

“It was challenging at times to sort of walk towards my character, because I was trying to see her in the way that Francis had envisioned, and there was a journey for that,” Emmanuel said, comparing the experience to a musician being conducted.

“Getting into his mind was kind of a trust fall,” Plaza added.

What Driver described as the director’s generous approach on set extended to the dais, as Coppola, the day’s main attraction, repeatedly attempted to bring his cast into the conversation. He tossed a question about the film’s politics to conservative Jon Voight; Fishburne fielded another on Coppola’s behalf. At one point, he even requested of the assembled press, “Please ask my sister Talia a question.”

Perhaps the most highly anticipated film of the entire festival, “Megalopolis” came into Cannes with a back story worthy of, well, “Megalopolis.” Its cost partially defrayed by the sale of several of his wine businesses, the allegorical drama, littered with allusions to Sappho and “Entertainment Tonight,” John Wilkes Booth and Elvis, emerged to unfavorable word-of-mouth as soon as it screened for buyers in March. “There is just no way to position this movie,” one distributor told The Hollywood Reporter.

Coppola intimated Friday that he was prepared for this reaction, and undeterred by it: “I knew the film was not like other films that are out,” he said. “It’s how I felt the film should be, and since I was paying for it I thought I was entitled [to do it my way].”

Since then, the headlines have had less to do with the film’s box-office prospects than conditions on set. On Tuesday, U.K. newspaper The Guardian published a lengthy story on the film, detailing a production “almost as fraught and chaotic as ‘Apocalypse Now’” — a shoot so notorious it inspired an accompanying documentary, “Hearts of Darkness,” directed by Coppola’s late wife Eleanor, who died last month.

More worryingly, the Guardian alleged that the director “pulled women to sit on his lap,” and “tried to kiss some of the topless and scantily clad female extras” during a nightclub scene. “Megalopolis” executive producer Darren Demetre told THR that he was “never aware of any complaints of harassment or ill behavior during the course of the project,” and explained Coppola’s conduct “as kind hugs and kisses on the cheek” designed to “inspire and establish the club atmosphere.”

When the film finally premiered in competition here Thursday, it unsurprisingly polarized critics, who alternately described it as the grandiose, incoherent boondoggle of a filmmaker well past his prime and an invigorating, late-life paean to the possibilities of cinema from one of its greatest practitioners.

“[Coppola]’s going out not with something tame and manicured but with an overstuffed, vigorous, seething story about the roots of fascism that only an uncharitable viewer would call a catastrophe,” Times film editor Joshua Rothkopf wrote in his Cannes review. “It may be the most radical film he’s ever done.”

The filmmaker himself does not appear to be treating “Megalopolis” as a closing statement, alluding, like his protagonist, to the work yet to do.

“The reason I often re-edit my films is because I own them. If you ask why do I own ‘Apocalypse Now,’ the answer is no one wanted it,” said Coppola, who also revealed that he’s already begun writing his next film. “I would never re-edit ‘The Conversation because I like the way it is. I never re-edited ‘The Godfather’… there is a scene I might add some day.”

But although he assured the room, only half joking, that he will “still be here in 20 years,” Coppola is satisfied with his list of accomplishments.

“There’s so many people when they die, they say, ‘I wish I had done this, I wish I done that.’ When I die, I’m going to say, ‘I got to do this.’ I got to see my daughter [Sofia Coppola] win an Oscar and I got to make wine and I got to make every movie I wanted to make.” he said. “I’m going to be so busy thinking about all the things I got to do that when I die I won’t notice it.”

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