“Black Flies,” the Sean Penn and Tye Sheridan film about emergency medical first responders, smacked the Cannes Film Festival in the face with a brutal world premiere on Thursday.
Splattered brains, dead dogs, an addict giving birth with a needle dangling from her arm — these and a litany of other horrors confronted Penn and Sheridan, who play veteran and rookie paramedics, respectively, at the New York Fire Department. Interestingly enough, the black-tie screening at the Grand Palais enjoyed the dose of reality, giving the film a five-minute standing ovation.
More from Variety
“We carry the misery,” a weary Penn tells Sheridan in the film of their chosen profession. That’s an understatement, as chaos unfolds neighborhood by neighborhood in a portrait of an unforgiving city.
“Black Flies” stars Sheridan as Ollie Cross, a young paramedic in New York City who is mentored by Penn’s more-experienced EMT. The two are forced to face extreme violence during their shifts, from blood-soaked gunshot wounds to disturbing scenes of domestic violence and life-threatening pregnancies, forcing Ollie to confront his beliefs about life and death. Legendary boxer Mike Tyson also stars in the film as Chief Burroughs, Sheridan and Penn’s superior officer.
Penn, no stranger to Cannes, excited fans lining the Croisette upon arrival, but Sheridan got the crowd hollering during the ovation. The “Ready Player One” star served a lead and producer.
The film’s many spectacles paid off in a somber final card displayed during credits — that suicides among the emergency responder community eclipse patient deaths in some areas.
The film debuted in competition, where it’s up for the Palme d’Or against new films from the likes of Todd Haynes, Wes Anderson and more. Penn has had a somewhat rocky history, as of late, with Cannes. His directorial effort “The Last Face,” in which he starred opposite Charlize Theron, was one of the infamous bombs of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, while 2021’s “Flag Day,” in which he starred opposite his daughter Dylan Penn, received a muted response at the Palais.
Sheridan recently told Variety that he jumped at the chance to act opposite Penn, and the two even researched the real world of New York City paramedics together.
“We both got very into being medics,” Sheridan said. “By the time we started shooting, we had a shorthand with each other. It was always fun and collaborative.”
“Black Flies” is seeking U.S. distribution out of Cannes.
Best of Variety