On a miserable wind-swept, rain-battered Wednesday evening, the Cannes Film Festival’s 66th edition was declared open by Amitabh Bachchan and Leonardo DiCaprio. While Bachchan had a cameo in the Festival’s inaugural movie, Baz Luhrmann’s 1920s American story, The Great Gatsby, DiCaprio plays the title character.
In an important way, Bachchan’s pivotal role on the stage seemed befitting of Cannes’ celebration of Indian cinema’s 100 years.
After a song from the film, The Color Purple by Steven Spielberg -- who heads the jury this year – was performed by Emeli Sandé, French actress Audrey Tautou welcomed on stage the other members of jury, including Vidya Balan, Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee and Christopher Waltz.
But why did Balan, in what was a positively hideous costume resembling that of a Manipuri dancer, supposedly designed by Sabysachi Mukherjee, look so uncomfortably diffident?
Although Nandita Das (part of the short film jury headed by New Zealand’s Jane Campion) and Aishwarya Rai, one of the most recognisable faces at Cannes, were not seen on the Red Carpet, Frieda Pinto (who hit international headlines with her Slumdog Millionaire and Miral) and Mallika Sherawat added a dash of Indian glamour. Sherawat thrilled photographers for a full five minutes with her daring poses. At one point, she was seen thrusting her bust towards a shutterbug.
Screening of The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby by Australia’s Luhrmann – screened in the presence of the movie’s helmer and top stars, DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan – was yet another literary adaptation from a man known to specialise in them, and take liberties too. We have seen that when he made Moulin Rouge, another Cannes opener in early 2000, and Romeo + Juliet.
Often called an operatic and cheeky director, Luhrmann this time latches on the doomed love story written by Scott Fitzgerald. He is said to have penned the last chapters of the slim novel very close to where the Festival Palace stands today at Cannes – and in a turbulent state of mind. While he was furiously writing away, his wife was merrily having an affair on the beach adjacent to the Palace.
Sadly, much like Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby turns out to a melodramatic mush without a soul. Despite its star power infused by DiCaprio, who plays the doomed millionaire, Mulligan and Maguire, The Great Gatsby fails to reach any great height. And the fact that it was shot in 3D seems more like a PR exercise than a real contribution to the film’s value.
Although Luhrmann retains the slim book’s core plot and characters, he makes an important digression. The aspiring writer, Nick Carraway (Maguire) tells the story of his association with the mysteriously charming millionaire Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio) to a therapist, not to the reader.
The plot unravels in the 1922 New York, flush with new money and a booming stock exchange ( the bust is round the corner), where Gatsby lives in almost vulgar opulence, throwing the craziest of parties and inviting equally crazy men and women, swinging to drugs and free sex.
Carraway lives next door to Gatsby, and is surprised to find an invitation to one of these parties, which eventually helps him get close to the millionaire and his tragic life, liberally peppered with a desperately elusive romance with Daisy Buchanan, Carraway’s cousin.
Much as DiCaprio is excellent as a man blindly in love with a married woman, Mulligan is not quite up there as someone who could bewitch a guy so. Often this disparity shows.
In the end, The Great Gatsby turns out to be a rather hollow show, jazzed up by wonderful costumes and beautiful people. Not much else.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cannes Film Festival for Hindustan Times)