The 67th Cannes Film Festival will open on May 14 with Olivier Dahan's Grace of Monaco. Australian actor Nicole Kidman will play Princess Grace Kelly, and Tim Roth, Prince Rainier III of Monaco. The two married in 1956.
Interestingly, Grace of Monaco has been co-produced by Uday Chopra of Yash Raj Films, and one can be sure that Bollywood will be elated that it will have a hand in the opening night at Cannes!
Incredible as it may sound, Kelly met the Prince during the Cannes film festival in May 1955 when she headed the American delegation to the French Riviera. Invited by Rainier to his palace in the Principality of Monaco, just an hour away from Cannes, Kelly was to walk with him in his garden and shake hands with him. And for a French magazine, this was a wonderful photo opportunity. A great honour indeed, for Kelly was an Oscar winning actor and had worked for some legends.
And it was an equally great pride for the festival, which, by then inching towards being the most glamorous cinema event in the world, was desperate to get over an embarrassment it suffered a year earlier in 1954.
American actor Robert Mitchum was at the festival, and on a sunny spring day, when he was on the beach, the shapely French starlet, Simone Sylva, had walked up to him and let her bikini top drop. Photographers rushed to capture that, and a chivalrous Mitchum shielded her breasts with his hands.
The image was on the front pages of just about every paper the next day, and the festival organisers - who then belonged to the conservative school and who regarded cinema as something sacred - asked Simone to leave Cannes.
(Years later in 2012, a mortified Cannes would ask Danish helmer Lars Von Trier to leave town after his famous quip about being a Nazi sympathiser at a press conference.)
The organisers felt that only someone like Kelly, who was regal and classy, could repair the damage. So she came, and was almost on the verge of cancelling her appointment with the Prince that May afternoon. But she did not do so. She sent a thank you note to him after a brief encounter in his garden, to which he replied -- smitten as he was by the absolutely divine looking Grace.
The stream of letters crisscrossing the Atlantic deepened their fondness and love for each other. Grace had once said that she wanted to marry someone who did not feel belittled by her success, and the Prince was not. They were married in April 1956, less than a year after they had met on the French Riviera, a marriage dubbed as one of the century.
It is this period of Kelly's life that Kidman will portray in Grace of Monaco. And not quite the years from 1950 to 1956, when Grace acted in 11 features - some as outstanding as High Noon with Gary Cooper (helmed by Zinnemann), Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder with Ray Milland, Rear Window (also Hitchcock, with James Stewart) and The Swan by Charles Vidor, with Alec Guinness.
Grace of Monaco did lead to unpleasantness. Kelly's children, Prince Albert II, Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie, called the movie needlessly glamorised and historically inaccurate. "Therefore, the Royal Family wishes to stress that this film in no way constitutes a biopic. It recounts one rewritten, needlessly glamorised page in the history of Monaco, and its family with both major historical inaccuracies, and a series of purely fictional scenes."
Soon after the shoot was wrapped up, Kidman told the French newspaper, Le Figaro, that the movie was a character study. "This is not a biopic or a fictionalised documentary of Grace Kelly, but only a small part of her life where she reveals her great humanity as well as her fears, and weaknesses."
Later Dahan quipped, "I am not a journalist or historian. I am an artist. I have not made a biopic. I hate biopics in general. I have done, in any subjectivity, a human portrait of a modern woman who wants to reconcile her family, her husband, her career. But who will give up her career and invent another role. And it will be painful."
(Gautaman Bhaskaran, who has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 23 years, will be back on the French Riviera this May)