There comes a time, even at a festival seemingly dedicated to the most austere and challenging examples of international arthouse cinema, when it becomes clear that the real currency of this particular realm is stardom.
Such a moment arrived in the South of France 8:30 in the morning on Saturday, with the first press screening of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." It was reinforced afterwards with a "Pirates" photocall and a "Pirates" press conference. And it became all-but-inescapable that evening when Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane and the rest of the film's cast and creative team walked the red carpet at the Grand Theatre Lumiere.
For one day, at least, Cannes wasn't about who's going to win the Palme d'Or, but about Johnny and Penelope and Jerry (Bruckheimer) and Rob (Marshall) and their very big Hollywood movie.
(Over at the Cannes marketplace, meanwhile, the currency of the realm was still currency.)
Film journalists who'd spent the last few days comparing notes on the Almodovar and the von Trier nonetheless filled the 4,000-seat Palais the first thing Saturday morning for "Pirates," and then unleashed an array of reviews that pretty much define the phrase backhanded compliment.
"While the movie is familiar, episodic and dull, it isn’t noxious," said Anne Thompson, who also pointed out that the end of the movie was greeted neither with applause nor with boos, which might have been considered a victory of sorts in front of a notoriously tough and vocal crowd.
"At the very least, 'On Stranger Tides' has a good-natured glow about it," added Stephanie Zacharek.
"For me it was not as bad as I thought it was going to be," wrote James Powell, "and at a considerably shorter running time than the second and third, it is a lot more manageable."
And Jeff Wells came up with nine nice things to say about the film, though he also kept throwing in phrases like "The problem, of course, is that it's all in the service of cancerous swill." So maybe that's all backhand and no compliment.
Also in the no-compliment camp is Kris Tapley, whose In Contention cohort in Cannes, Guy Lodge, skipped the "Pirates" screening because Tapley had already seen the film back in L.A., and warned him about it. Tapley says it's embarrassing and excruciating, and adds, perhaps indelicately, "The only thing that kept my attention was the placement of Penelope Cruz's crucifix necklace."
In the afternoon, the "Pirates" cast posed for thousands of photos and then sat for a press conference and did interviews. According to Anthony Breznican, Depp talked once again about why he doesn’t watch the movies he's in, Cruz and Marshall admitted that Cruz's sister Monica was used in some shots when the star's pregnancy grew too advanced to hide, and Rush compared the whole thing to playing Vegas.
And Depp, said an account by Anthony Kaufman, promised that "there's much more fun to be had" with the characters, so additional "Pirates" movies may ensue.
The We Are Movie Geeks website has lots of photos and some video from the press conference and photocall.
When it came time for the evening screening, things got even crazier, as the biggest crowd yet seen at the festival turned out to watch the film or gawk at the stars or just bask in the craziness.
Even some people who had no intention of being there got caught in the melee: "I made a bit of a mistake this afternoon," wrote Brad Brevet at Rope of Silicon. " … What I didn't realize was that I was heading down to the Palais des Festival at the exact same time as the red carpet for tonight's black tie screening of 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.' As I arrived it was an absolute madhouse of people screaming as Hans Zimmer's 'Pirates' score blared in the background."
(He also posted some photos, and a video that mostly consists of the back of people's heads looking at something we can't see.)
Yeah, but did it belong at Cannes? "Why present such obvious hack work?" asked Thompson. "The answer, my dears, is in the stars: Cannes is happy to expend some cred in order for Depp and Cruz to ascend the red Palais steps."
Saturday night also meant lots of parties, including one – thrown by Red Granite – at which Kanye West and Jamie Foxx performed (above).
Somewhere during the course of the day, some other films got noticed as well. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "The Kid with a Bike" was generally admired; the Weinstein Company got to show off its recent acquisition "Wu Xia" ("Dragon"), which Maggie Lee said was "unashamedly pleasurable popular entertainment"; and Markus Schleinzer's disturbing tale of child molestation, "Michael," divided reviewers. (Sasha Stone will weigh in at TheWrap shortly.)
And with Johnny Depp leaving for London on Sunday, the paparazzi will need to turn their lenses elsewhere. But hey, Brad Pitt is coming to town for "The Tree of Life" on Monday, so things should be pretty healthy on Cannes' stardom front for a while longer.
Getty Images photos by Vittorio Zunio Celotto (Cruz and Depp) and Andrew H. Walker (Foxx and West)