Donald Trump Movie ‘The Apprentice’ Shocks Cannes, Receives Nearly Eight-Minute Standing Ovation

One of the most anticipated moments of the 77th Cannes Film Festival finally arrived Monday night with the world premiere of the Donald Trump drama The Apprentice, starring Sebastian Stan as a young version of the real estate mogul in his pre-MAGA days.

Only Francis Ford Coppola’s wildly ambitious swan song Megalopolis had inspired more pre-premiere chatter and curiosity at this year’s edition of the glamorous French film festival. Ahead of its unveiling, virtually no one had seen The Apprentice, as the movie reportedly was finished only days before its premiere.

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Ali Abbasi, Stan, Martin Donovan and Maria Bakalova walked the Cannes red carpet for the premiere. Only Jeremy Strong, who plays notorious political fixer Roy Cohn in the film, was not in attendance.

Directed by acclaimed Iranian-Danish filmmaker Abbasi and written by Gabe Sherman, The Apprentice explores Donald Trump’s rise to power in 1980s America under the influence of the firebrand rightwing attorney Roy Cohn. Succession star Strong co-stars as Cohn, along with Martin Donovan (Tenet) as Fred Trump Sr. and Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) as Ivana Trump.

Several shocking moments late in the film — a scene depicting Trump’s alleged rape of his first wife Ivana and a surgery room sequence showing Trump getting liposuction — drew audible gasps from the Cannes premiere crowd. As the final credits rolled, the Cannes crowd starting clapping in time to the sound of Baccara’s “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” playing on the soundtrack.

After the screening, Abbasi warmly hugged his cast members and Cate Blanchett, sitting just in front of the director and crew, was the first to jump up and applaud, embracing Bakalova. The loudest applause was for Stan for his transformative performance as Trump. The crowd enthusiastically cheered and clapped, staying on their feet for nearly eight minutes, though many were spotted ducking out of the theater by the four-minute mark. Abbasi kept the crowd going, applauding and pointing randomly to people in the audience. Abbasi also held up his cell phone to the cameras during the standing ovation to show a shirtless selfie of Strong in costume and seemingly backstage from his play in New York. The moment drew big cheers and Abbasi kissed the screen of his phone.

When addressing the crowd, Abbasi commented on the current world events such as the war in Ukraine and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, explaining how “in the time of turmoil there’s this tendency to look inwards” and “to bury your head deep in the sand and look inside and hope for the best.”

“The storm is not going to get away. The storm is coming. Actually, the worst times are to come,” he added. “But you can pretend it’s not here. You can also deal with it.”

Abbasi then addressed being questioned why he wanted to make a movie centered on Trump and argued that films need to be “relevant” again. He explained, “There is no nice metaphorical way to deal with the rising wave of fascism. There’s only the messy way. There’s only the the banal way. There’s only the way of dealing with this wave on its own terms, at its own level and it’s not going to be pretty, but I think the problem with the world is that the good people have been quiet for too long. So, I think it’s time to make movies relevant. It’s time to make movies political again.”

By Monday night, The Apprentice still didn’t have a U.S. distributor in place, although it sold earlier in the Cannes festival to StudioCanal for the U.K. and Ireland, where it will be released theatrically later this year.

Rocket Science is handling international sales on the project, which was financed by Kinematics, Head Gear Films, Screen Ireland, Film i Vast, the Danish Film Institute and National Bank of Canada.

The movie is produced by Daniel Bekerman for Scythia Films, Jacob Jarek for Profile Pictures, Ruth Treacy and Julianne Forde for Tailored Films and Abbasi and Louis Tisné for Film Institute. Executive producers are Amy Baer, Mark H. Rapaport, Emanuel Nunez, Josh Marks, Grant S. Johnson, Phil Hunt and Compton Ross, Thorsten Schumacher, Niamh Fagan, Sherman, Lee Broda, James Shani, Andrew Frank and Greg Denny.

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