Twenty five years after Quentin Tarantino took Cannes by storm with “Pulp Fiction,” the maverick director returned with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” receiving a six-minute standing ovation at Tuesday’s glittering premiere. It’s one of the longest such receptions at this year’s festival, which has been building up to the moment when Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio would stand side by side on the most glamorous red carpet in the world. Indeed, the two actors injected an impressive display of star-wattage at a festival that has been lacking in A-list appearances. Cameras flashed and fans screamed as DiCaprio and Pitt gamely posed for selfies and signed autographs.
Tarantino seemed to relish the attention, mouthing “I love you” to his wife Daniella Pick and whispering in the ear of Margot Robbie, one of the film’s stars. As he stood atop the stairs of the Palais, gazing out at the scene below him, he yelled “vive le cinéma.”
As for the film, without going into spoilers, which festival head Thierry Frémaux warned journalists not to reveal, it’s a panoramic look at the movie business at the end of the 1960s — one that encompasses real-life figures such as Sharon Tate and the Manson family. DiCaprio plays a washed-up TV-Western star and Pitt is his body double and majordomo. There are also cameos by everybody from Timothy Olyphant to Bruce Dern. Lena Dunham pops up as a Manson girl, although the star of “Girls” didn’t make the trip to Cannes.
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Despite the ghoulish premise and sprawling canvas (no expense was spared in recreating Vietnam-era L.A.), the film is more of a character study than some of Tarantino’s recent works. It is, in some respects, a meditation on the ephemeral nature of talent and a cautionary tale for artists who find themselves out of step with the times. It’s unclear how commercial that will prove, something that could be worrisome for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s” backers, given the film’s hefty price tag. It also should be noted that nearly every film at Cannes earns an ovation. That type of audience response doesn’t always translate into rapturous reviews.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” debuts in theaters on July 26. In addition to DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie, the cast includes Kurt Russell, Al Pacino and the late Luke Perry, in one of his final big-screen roles. Sony Pictures is releasing the film, which is the hot ticket here in Cannes. Cannes residents could be seen up and down the Croisette holding placards asking for extra tickets. One journalist looked to be on the verge of tears after she was told she couldn’t get into tonight’s screening by Sony’s PR team. She may have been lucky. Dozens of people were turned away at the door of the premiere even though they had balcony seats because the event was oversubscribed.
It wasn’t just the premiere that had people jockeying for a chance to be among the first to see Tarantino’s latest feature. Journalists queued for two hours before the film’s 4:30 p.m. press screening. When the attendants came to the entrance barrier at the theater at about 3:50 p.m. to start admitting attendees, a round of applause went up from some in the crowd. The crush and jostle to get in became such a heaving mess of sharp elbows that the staffers had to admonish people not to push their way into the theater.
In addition to the film’s stars, the premiere audience included super agent Bryan Lourd, Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman, Oscar winner Adrien Brody and comedian Chris Tucker.
Henry Chu contributed to this report.