Great Gatsby star Leonardo DiCaprio on Wednesday opened the 66th Cannes Film Festival ahead of the European premiere of Baz Luhrmann's controversial 3-D epic which kicked off the world's most prestigious film meet.
Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Carey Mulligan and a troupe of 1920s flapper dancers were among those braving driving rain and plunging temperatures on the red carpet.
Dresses billowed in the wind outside the festival palace forcing stars to hang on to their hemlines. Inside, Spielberg, this year's jury head, appeared touched by an unusually enthusiastic standing ovation, telling the audience that at 66 he was getting "older alongside the festival".
Earlier, Luhrmann's high-octane take on the Roaring Twenties classic got a cool reception at a press screening, where it met prolonged silence punctuated by some whistles of disapproval and a smattering of supportive applause. DiCaprio, who stars as F. Scott Fitzgerald's enigmatic millionaire Jay Gatsby, also led fellow cast members Mulligan and Tobey Maguire for a photo call ahead of the grand festival opening.
Other stars expected at the glitzy 12-day movie fest on the French Riviera include Ryan Gosling, Michael Douglas, Matt Damon and Alain Delon. Luhrmann's, Gatsby, has left critics in the United States and Britain divided on whether it amounts to inspiration or a turkey. The Australian director's adaptation targets a younger generation who have never seen the 1974 version, which starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the leading roles.
Three-D effects and a score produced by rapper Jay-Z and tracks from Beyonce and will.i.am provide the core of his eye-catching, youth-friendly pitch. After its North America premiere earlier this month, the New York Times described it as eminently enjoyable and film website Indiewire hailed a guilty pleasure, a swirling audacious piece of cinema.
But others panned it as superficial and brash.
"Once his (Luhrmann's) agenda of swooping camera movements and gleaming roadsters and anachronistic music takes full hold, there's nothing left to fall back on," said industry watcher The Wrap. "'The Great Gatsby' is an immortal American tragedy, but the story's impact gets completely buried in Luhrmann's flash and dazzle." Rolling Stone was even more blunt, calling the $100 million movie, a crushing disappointment.
Aside from the staggering beauty of the costumes, nothing works. The actors are buried in the art direction, along with feeling", it said. "The film looks as stiff and lifeless as a posh store window." Despite the doubts, Gatsby took $51.1 million at the weekend's US box office, reportedly exceeding distributor Warner Brothers' expectations of between $35 million and $40 million. The film, which is not in competition at Cannes, came in second behind the blockbuster Iron Man 3.
Figures showed the film had proved popular with older audiences too.Viewers over 25 made up 69 percent of the opening weekend's audience, according to Warner Bros.
The opening festivities in Cannes will be rounded off with a gala dinner later Wednesday for 650 people with Anne-Sophie Pic, the only female French chef with three Michelin stars, at the helm.
Pic, who works at her family's Maison Pic restaurant in Valence in southeastern France, told AFP she was proud to have been chosen along with the two-star chef Bruno Oger.
But she said she was also stressed by the desire to do well. "It's a real challenge, one of the finest dinners of the year," she said.
Twenty films are in competition in Cannes for the coveted Palme d'Or prize. Among the most keenly anticipated films is Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, which the director has said he had trouble getting made because it was too gay. The film will be something of a swansong for the 50-year-old Soderbergh, who has announced his retirement.
Other big names in competition include the Coen Brothers with, Inside Llewyn Davis and Roman Polanski with Venus in Furs. Amelie star Audrey Tautou, who hosted the opening ceremony, said earlier she discovered she had been chosen as the maitresse de ceremonies by text message. "The offer threw me off balance a bit. I was immediately touched, but torn between wanting to accept and for two or three days wondering if I could do it," she told AFP in an interview.
"In the end I refused to allow myself to be ruled by fear," she added. The festival is also a meeting point for thousands of executives involved in the less visible side of movie-making, script-writing, talent management, technology and film distribution.
The Cannes Film Festival got off to a blockbuster, if stormy start, as Baz Luhrmann's, The Great Gatsby opened on a soggy French Riviera. Amid heavy rain, dancing flappers flocked down the Cannes red carpet Wednesday night, bringing a touch of the Jazz Age to the Croisette. Gatsby stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire helped give the festival's opening day a strong dose of star power.
At the opening ceremony, DiCaprio, joined by his Gatsby co-star, Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, declared the 66th Cannes officially begun. Over the next 12 days, dozens of the world's most artistically ambitious films will premiere on Cannes' global stage. But Wednesday was a day for blockbusters - both the big-budget "Gatsby" and Hollywood's most accomplished director of spectacle: Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg is serving as jury president at this year's Cannes. His presence here is a rarity (he's had films at Cannes before, including E.T. and Sugarland Express, but never had a movie in competition), and he was received like a visiting head of state, a king of cinema. The Lincoln director received a standing ovation at the opening ceremony and was serenaded with a performance of Miss Celie's Blues from his 1985 film, The Color Purple.
He heads the jury that will decide the prestigious Palme d'Or, given to one of the 20 competing films, with entries ranging from the Coen brothers (Llewyn Davis), Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Steven Soderbergh (Behind the Candelabra). This year's jury is an intimidating, starry bunch, including Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee and Christoph Waltz.
"Everyone sits in judgment of us," Spielberg said. "So it's our turn."
Luhrmann's 3-D adaption of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is this year's festival opener, a choice that surprised many since the film opened last week in North America. Cannes typically takes precedence over release schedules, but "Gatsby" sails to the Croisette after a robust weekend haul of $51.1 million.
After Luhrmann noted in a news conference that the film had pushed Fitzgerald's novel to the top of the bestseller list (selling more copies in a week than in the author's lifetime), DiCaprio added with a grin: "And a little film adaptation is doing quite well at the box office." But while Gatsby is getting a victory lap on the Cannes' red carpet, it comes to the festival with the sting of mixed reviews. Many film critics have taken issue with the movie's stylistic flourishes.
"I knew that would come," said Luhrmann, noting Fitzgerald's 1925 novel was also initially received poorly. "I just care that people are going out and seeing it. I really am so moved by that." Gatsby plays out of competition at the festival, but Spielberg should have his hands full with a slate lacking any obvious favorite. Internationally-respected filmmakers like Roman Polanski (Venus in Fur), Asghar Farhadi (The Past) and Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive) are to premiere their films in competition.
Every year, the Cannes jury president is psychoanalyzed to help predict the Palme d'Or winner. This year is no different, with onlookers guessing that Spielberg will either gravitate toward the kind of warm-hearted films he's best known for, or seek to deliberately contradict that assumption with a more audacious choice.
The international jury also includes Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, Japanese director Naomi Kawase, French actor Daniel Auteuil and Bollywood star Vidya Balan.
"I'm going to have to look at the Sidney Lumet film, 12 Angry Men, again as a tutorial to prepare myself for the final day of deliberation," Spielberg said with a smile.