Eric Cantona feted in Cannes for Loach film role

Brangelina aside, no one is getting bigger star treatment at the Cannes Film Festival than Eric Cantona.

Crossing the town's beachfront main drag, the Croisette, the French soccer great is mobbed by fans taking pictures and shouting "Le Roi" — the king. At the end of a press conference, journalists surge forward to get autographs from Cantona, who stars in Ken Loach's Cannes entry "Looking for Eric."

"People said to me, the Cannes experience is very special," said Cantona in the relative calm of a seafront hotel suite. "But I didn't know."

The level of adoration may surprise those unfamiliar with Cantona, a category that includes most Americans.

Loach's movie — an exceptionally funny and commercially appealing picture from a director better known for gritty social realism — should introduce many new moviegoers to Cantona, who is both athlete and icon, a football philosopher as famed for his cryptic pronouncements as for his stunning goals.

"Looking for Eric" plays on that reputation to comic effect. Cantona is the idol of central character Eric Bishop (British actor Steve Evets), a middle-aged Manchester mailman who pulls himself out of depression through imagined conversations with his hero. Cantona appears in Eric's bedroom for motivational chats, dispensing nuggets of wisdom such as, "He who is afraid to throw the dice will never throw a six."

So is Cantona sending up his reputation as a soccer sage?

He said the character is "a part of myself which is very close to what I am."

"We live in a world of image," Cantona said. "I've tried to be just myself — which is an image also."

It's a satisfyingly cryptic answer from a man who became a fan favorite at Manchester United in the 1990s. He helped the team win four league titles in five years but also gained a reputation for volatility and was suspended for nine months after landing a flying kick on a fan who heckled him.

Cantona baffled reporters at the subsequent press conference by pronouncing: "When the seagulls follow a trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea" — then leaving.

Journalists pored endlessly over the meaning of Cantona's words. Cantona says now they were "nonsense."

"They all tried to analyze, to find the sense of these words," he said. "But I think the sense was in the situation."

Jazz-lover Cantona spent his suspension learning to play the trumpet — he performs a slightly shaky version of "La Marseillaise" in the movie.

He retired from soccer in 1997 — he says he'd lost his passion for the game — and has concentrated on acting and film production. He initially approached Loach — director of "Kes," "It's a Free World" and 2006 Cannes top prize winner "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" — with an idea for a screenplay. That film never got made, but Cantona found Loach to be a kindred spirit — and a huge soccer fan.

"I really love his cinema," said Cantona, 42. "Sometimes it's so real, you think it's a documentary ... There's a lot of humanity and solidarity."

The two men share a desire to celebrate communal bonds. Loach is a lifelong socialist who said that his film, with its affectionate portrait of a group of Manchester United fans, sets out to show that we are at our best when we work together.

Cantona, despite his maverick reputation, also values group effort. In the film his character is asked to recall the highlight of his career — and the surprising answer is not a goal, but a pass to another player. Screenwriter Paul Laverty said that was Cantona's real response to the question.

He'd be happy if "Looking for Eric" won prizes when Cannes hands out its awards on Sunday. But the thing he most enjoyed about the experience was the teamwork.

"When we were all together on the red carpet, you could feel the energy between us," Cantona said. "All the team were there, and it was so strong, like when you are in a tournament, before you go on the pitch before a great game. I could feel this energy."

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas