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There is perhaps only one film star on earth who can not only pilot his own fighter jets for stunts, but can persuade the French government to tee up a flyover by the Patrouille de France, usually reserved for Bastille Day! You know who I mean don’t you? Yup, it’s Tom Cruise.
At nearly 60 years of age, the enigma remains intact. How can Tom Cruise possibly have the same handsome, chiseled face he had when he first starred in Top Gun 36 years ago?
It’s an understatement to say he received a warm welcome back to the Croisette. It was the moment of the Cannes week to date.
The last time Tom had the world’s cameras trained on him was in 1992 as he walked up the red carpet for the projection of Ron Howard’s "Far and Away".
Cruise has been back to France many times since then for various film shoots, but not to the Cannes festival itself.
“This is such a beautiful moment, a privilege to see your faces here in a cinema, thank you,” he told participants at his masterclass earlier in the day.
RFI spoke to dozens of people who had gathered in the streets of Cannes, some spending more than two hours in a queue just to access the strip of road where stars step out of their cars in the evening.
There were nothing but positive comments about Cruise. Handsome, a good actor, charismatic, an idol to some. This from men and women of different ages and nationalities.
There they were, standing on the footpath of the main avenue in front of the red carpet for at least two hours, elbow to elbow with the crowds, hanging on to a metal barrier, listening to the MC and the booming music.
I was, like my fellow spotters, waiting for the famous names to be called out: astronaut Thomas Pesquet ! Omar Sy! John Hamm! Jennifer Connelly!
But let's be honest, we were all just hankering to get a glimpse of the man in the flesh - and see that face, recognisable anywhere.
Start your engines!
Finally, after about 15 minutes saluting the paparazzi at the bottom of the stairs, signing autographs and chatting with those lucky enough to get front row spots, Tom began to climb. And just as he got to the top of the stairs, on cue, the skies rumbled with the flyover (twice).
OK, the film can start now! Was it worth it? Hell yeah!
Everybody wants a hero
Tom Cruise has been making essentially the same movie for years, adored by fans from Japan to Australia and Europe, especially France. Why? Quite possibly because he has hit on a recipe that people love. It’s all about the entertainment. Action, stunts, a romance or two and a hero who saves the day. Everyone loves a hero right?
At his press conference, Tom was asked why wait 36 years to make a sequel?
"I wasn't ready," he says. "I needed to grow as an artist. I need to understand what cinema is. I'm still learning. Sequels means having a dialogue with the audience, and an investment in the characters.
"I don't want to disapppoint the audience, it's gotta work. It takes time and I care about it".
In this day and age, probably more than ever right now, people are looking for heroes. They want to believe things are going to be OK. And Tom Cruise’s films say that, despite all the obstacles, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Even though Top Gun Maverick is not in competition, it has already won over hearts and minds.
It certainly brought out the big guns in terms of festival hype: we could easily conclude that he came, he saw, he conquered. And he even walked away with a surprise honorary Palme d’Or!
"Top Gun Maverick", directed by Joseph Kosinski, and produced by Tom Cruise, is released in France on 25 May and 27 May in the US.