Cannes Film Festival Opening: A ‘Great’ Evening

Leonardo DiCaprio and the stars of Baz Luhrmann's 'Great Gatsby' opened the festival

Cannes Film Festival Opening: ‘Great’ Evening

There was plenty of Baz-razzmatazz as the 66th Cannes Film Festival bowed with a mix of fun, lofty hopes and melancholy that F. Scott Fitzgerald would have appreciated.

In the spirit of opener “The Great Gatsby,” a troupe of dancers dressed in 1920s-style outfits burst out of a period car and performed a dance on the red carpet.

Throngs of fans lined the road to the Palais, where the stars of Warner Bros.’ “Gatsby” elicited screams and cheers, and big names glamming it up on the red carpet included Julianne Moore, Freida Pinto, Lana Del Rey, Florence Welch, Nicole Kidman, Cindy Crawford, Fan Bingbing, Ludivine Sagnier, Zhang Ziyi, Walter Salles, Michel Piccoli, Agnes Varda and Roskino CEO Katya Mtsitouridze. France’s Minister of Culture Aurelie Filipetti and Venice Film Festival topper Alberto Barbera were also in attendance.

Many guests carried umbrellas, but the rain seemed a minor distraction. All the gown photo ops on the red carpet proceeded smoothly, since the jam-packed photographers area was protected by a roof.

Unfortunately the fans weren’t, but they seemed unfazed, staring intently at the arrivals.

Inside the Palais, there was something delicious about seeing black-tie audience members wearing 3D glasses.

The evening gala was hosted by Audrey Tautou, who said: “At Cannes losing your cell phone can be the end of the world for some. We want you to tweet whether you’re happy or mad. But underneath its frivolous aspect, Cannes exists first and foremost to make you discover new films, to make you dream … and there’s no need to be Indiana Jones to do that,” said Tautou, referring to Steven Spielberg’s cult franchise.

Jury prexy Spielberg was introduced by a selection of clips from his movies, from “Raiders of the Lost Ark’ to “E.T.”

Taking the stage to a long standing ovation, Spielberg said, “The festival is 66 and I’m also 66 so I grew up with the festival.” He added, “We expect to be moved, surprised and even changed by some of the films.”

The opening night screening, followed by the official fest reception, set the tone for the biggest festival in the world. In some ways, “Gatsby” was a surprising choice (it opened in the U.S. last week), but in other ways it seemed inevitable: The film offers plenty of clues to the dominant themes at the fest this year.

The first theme is that the competition is filled with American-looking movies that are actually international hybrids. Ryan Gosling starrer “Only God Forgives” is directed by Danish helmer Nicolas Winding Refn. Three pics have French directors: Guillaume Canet’s “Blood Ties,” with Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Mila Kunis and Clive Owen; Arnaud Desplechin’s “Jimmy P.,” with Benicio Del Toro; and Jerome Salle’s “Zulu,” starring Orlando Bloom and Forest Whitaker.

And French money is behind many films from other countries.

So “Gatsby” fits right in, with its Long Island setting faithfully reproduced in Australia, brought to life by Oz helmer Baz Luhrmann and designer Catherine Martin and actors from multiple nations playing Yanks. This has been going on for a long time, but it’s more prevalent in this year’s lineup.

Second theme is the Gatsby star power. As Variety reported May 15, there are a surprisingly big number of star-driven projects available at the Cannes Market, which opens today.

Stars are more crucial than ever in film funding and opening night boasted the biggest star on the Cote d’Azur this year, Leonardo DiCaprio — if you don’t count the jury, which includes Steven Spielberg, Kidman, Ang Lee and Christoph Waltz.

That group also drives home the point that Hollywood is the center of the film universe, but no longer the entire universe: Those four “Hollywood” citizens come from different countries.

Like Fitzgerald’s tale of lavish haves and yearning have-nots, opening night provided lots of glitz in contrast to a world plagued by problems.

French unemployment is at an all-time high and festgoers have been hearing horror stories about the recent increase in crime in the sunny resort town. On a broader scale, filmgoing is falling in southern Europe. And on a global scale, the fees are way down on international broadcast rights, which are a key financial factor for any film.

So the business of Cannes has plenty to worry about but, like Jay Gatsby, the buyers and sellers here are dreamy-eyed pragmatists, focusing on the positive.

After the manic film, the festival dinner was all tasteful restraint. The L’Agora space featured muted pink lighting and simple, elegant food prepared by Anne-Sophie Lapic. Asked if there was a theme to the party, one event organizer exclaimed “Theme? It’s the official festival party. That’s the theme!”

As guests hurried in from the downpour, the film’s cast and filmmakers entered without notice. But when the jury, led by Steven Spielberg, walked in, the room burst into spontaneous applause.

Guests then braved the downpour to go to Warner Bros.’ post-fest-fete event at Quai Maxime Laubeuf. It was worth the 15-minute schlep.

The huge space was painted black, with long silver tinsel on the walls, and tinsel trees and white balloons around the room. Deejays mixed hip-hop with 1920s standards, while Bryan Ferry and Florence Welch each took turns at the mike. But the highlight of the evening was “Rhapsody in Blue” as guests looked through the huge windows to watch a spectacular fireworks display amid the rain over the sea. It was a snazzy and classy wrapup to WB’s extremely effective marketing of the film.