It rained on Baz Luhrmann’s parade as the Cannes Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday night, but the heavy showers that fell on the Croisette as luminaries arrived for the opening-night screening of “The Great Gatsby” didn’t appear to measurably dampen enthusiasm for the extravagant film or the lavish (of course) after-party.
In fact, TheWrap’s Wednesday speculation notwithstanding, “Gatsby” didn't go down in history as one of the films famously booed by the sometimes demanding Cannes audience – instead, it was well-received as a fitting way to launch a festival that always finds a way to obliterate the lines between art and glitz.
In Contention’s Guy Lodge, for instance, liked “Gatsby” but added that his opinion was irrelevant to the fact that it was the perfect match of festival and opening-night film: “More than any other festival on the scene, Cannes unapologetically balances art and commerce with unapologetic ease, giving an unfeasibly generous platform to austere, barely distributable auteur visions … whilst partying 'til dawn with the money men.”
See photos: 15 Must-See Movies at the Cannes Film Festival
Wednesday’s partiers included “Gatsby” stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Isla Fisher, as well as Fisher’s husband, Sacha Baron Cohen, who was last seen in these parts turning last year’s Cannes into a sideshow by walking a camel down the Croissette while appearing in character as the Dictator.
This time around, Cohen was well-behaved – and he stayed well in the background, ceding the spotlight to the “Gatsby” crew and to the Cannes jury, which is presided over by Steven Spielberg and also includes three other Oscar winners, Ang Lee, Nicole Kidman, Christoph Waltz, as well as directors Daniel Auteuil, Naomi Kawase, Lynne Ramsay and Cristian Mungiu and actress Vidya Balan.
(From left: Waltz, Balan, Auteuil, Mungiu, Lee, Kidman, Spielberg, Ramsay and Kawase.)
The jury took center stage earlier in the day on Wednesday when they were introduced to Cannes with a photo op and press conference. It may be a sign of just how badly the assembled media wants to see Cannes scandal, but by all reports questions at the press conference focused to an unhealthy degree on a supposed rivalry between Spielberg and Lee.
Because the two men were the frontrunners for the Best Director Oscar back in February, Spielberg with “Lincoln” and Lee with “Life of Pi,” the assumption behind some questions seemed to be that they were staunch rivals – an assumption Lee tried to defuse by saying of Spielberg, “I worship him … He’s my hero.”
Spielberg, for his part, said he and Lee “have been friends for a long time and we’ve never ever been competitors.”
Spielberg also said that the lack of campaigning for the Palme d’Or made Cannes “a breath of fresh air” compared to the Oscars (where, by the way, he lost to Lee and his film lost to Ben Affleck’s “Argo”) and that he might have to watch Sidney Lumet’s courtroom drama “12 Angry Men” for some pointers on how to conduct final jury deliberations.
He might also want to look at the BBC News website, where 2007 Cannes jury president Stephen Frears gave an interview in which he talked about the process the year he was in charge. That year, in which Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” won the Palme over a field that also included the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” David Fincher’s “Zodiac” and Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Frears said the process of deliberation was “rather dull,” with the exception of one heated moment about which he wouldn’t elaborate.
The biggest surprise, he said, was that the jury was “very anti-American,” despite his pleas that American films are watched worldwide. “This cut no ice with a few bolshy women on the jury,” he said.
(For the record, the women on that year’s jury were Canadian actress-director Sarah Polley and actresses Maggie Cheung from Hong Kong, Maria de Medeiros from Portugal and Toni Collette from Australia. The men were directors Marco Bellocchio and Abderrahmane Sissako, actor Michel Piccoli and novelist Orhan Pamuk.)
“Gatsby,” of course, isn’t eligible for any awards this year. The first main-competition title to screen was Mexican director Amat Escalante’s “Heli,” a grim and violent depiction of the effects of drug trafficking and corruption in Mexico, which opens with images of brutality and death and includes a lengthy scene of torture that is meant to appear commonplace to some of the characters who observe it.
“Moments of humor and surrealism … at least partially give the audience a break, but by and large, ‘Heli’ is a despairing, bleak watch,” wrote the Playlist’s Kevin Jagernauth.
Added Jeff Wells, “I respect Escalante … and his austere mindset, but there would have to be something wrong with anyone who says they ‘liked’ this movie. It uncovered every dark and fatalistic thought I’ve had about my life and about life in general, and generally sent me into a black-dog mood pit.”
At Cannes, though, the best way to escape those black-dog mood pits is by looking at movie stars – and on Wednesday, that brought us back to the stars of “Gatsby.” None are starrier than DiCaprio, who gave a long, rambling, thoughtful explanation of why he liked the book at a press conference for Luhrmann and his stars. (Wells has the video here.)
For journalists who wanted some one-on-one time with Leo, it was a different story. The Guardian’s Xan Brooks filed a “Waiting for Leo” story that breaks it down: more than three hours of waiting in a beach hut, then a four-minute interview with the man, then the news that he can’t have his tape of the interview unless he comes back on Thursday and interviews the rest of the cast.
Perhaps it wasn’t so bad for journalists who showed up to interview “The Bling Ring” star Emma Watson, who showed up on Wednesday afternoon and, if her Twitter account is to be believed, met the press while still under the effect of some candy she’d consumed.
Meanwhile, another tweet from 6,000 miles away can be treated as fair warning by everyone on the Croisette.
“Running around town doing some last minute shopping before I fly to Cannes tonight,” wrote Paris Hilton, who plays herself in “The Bling Ring.” “Can't wait! Going to be a fun trip!”
But a later tweet added that the airline lost half of Hilton’s luggage. Let’s hope it’s not the half that contained her raincoats, because the forecast does not call for clear skies.