Cannes Competition Blog: Only Lovers Left Alive, Venus in Fur
Screen’s Cannes 2013 Competition blog is now complete with the reaction to Jarmusch and Polanski’s films.
Screen International critic Fionnuala Halligan will be blogging every day after the Competition press screenings in Cannes, capturing the critical response to all of the contenders. Check back daily for updates.
Saturday May 25 — final update
Only Lovers Left Alive
The stylish languor of Only Lovers Left Alive surprisingly left some critics crying for blood (as it were), but this elegant vampire story from Jim Jarmusch is a real return to form for the indie movement’s godfather. Tilda Swinton takes the lead as Eve, so no easy task for the young Tom Hiddleston to step up and play Adam. What doesn’t kill you clearly makes you stronger, and Lovers takes Hiddleston to a new level, his quietly confident performance perfectly calibrated to the serene Swinton.
Witty and dreamy, Only Lovers Left Alive certainly doesn’t deliver a typical vampire yarn, although it’s hard to imagine anyone expecting that of a Jarmusch-Swinton collaboration. It’s not terribly substantial either, more of a dreamy sweep through Tangiers and, memorably, the deserted streets of night-time Detroit as Adam and Eve live out their eternal romance. John Hurt makes an appearance, and Mia Waikowska is delightful as Eve’s frisky sister Ava. An arthouse and festival draw par excellence.
Venus in Fur
Cannes 2013 went out on a high with this provocative, ripe crowd-pleaser (if your crowd comprises of cineastes in the Palais des Festivals). Venus in Fur saw Roman Polanski in fine fettle in a two-hander in which his wife, the unexpectedly riveting Emanuelle Seigner, plays opposite Mathieu Amalric, who looks uncannily like Polanski of two decades ago. It’s an interesting personal note, unlikely to be coincidental, as this adaptation of David Ives’ Broadway play deals with S&M, sexual objectification and, ultimately, female empowerment.
Venus in Fur is another interior piece, after Carnage, but a much finer, deeper work to which Polanski devotes his entire craft. Making a 96-minute two-hander shot on a single set is a daunting prospect; Knife in the Water, which Polanski made over 40 years ago, had three characters, so it has taken a while to get back to this intimacy.
Although it has a tendency to repeat itself - which could also be charitably interpreted as ebb-and-flow - Venus in Fur is classic Polanski, particularly the rousing, creepy finale. Amalric plays a writer-director who cannot find a leading lady for his play. When the coarse actress Vanda (Seigner) shows up late for her audition, he reluctantly gives her a chance, and is rapidly enslaved.
Of course, Venus in Fur is French-language, all about dialogue, and intellectually provocative, so it is clearly not destined for the multiplex. For Polanski fans, however, it’s a treat, and could possibly take an acting award for Seigner, who has never been this good before.
Friday May 24
Cannes is in the throes of an enduring love affair with writer-director James Gray; it isn’t in its first-blush, either; this is a lifetime commitment. Screening The Immigrant in Competition is another chapter in a relationship which outsiders often have trouble understanding. Sure, Marion Cotillard is front-and-centre as an abused Polish girl who washes up in New York in 1921 (this is not a New York that Baz Luhrmann would recognise), giving the actress yet another red carpet night this year. But The Immigrant is a very plodding, dour drama with not much to feed on.
Gray, writing with Richard Menello, tells the straight-up story of a poor Polish lass called Ewa who is exploited by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a cabaret impresario and pimp. She wants to earn money to release her sister from the Ellis Island sanitarium, he falls in love with her, and matters are further complicated when his magician cousin Orlando (Jeremy Renner) appears on the scene.
An old-fashioned “women’s film” in which Cotillard’s character suffers, suffers again, and then suffers some more, The Immigrant also has religious overtones in which she turns to the church for redemption, ushering in gospel music, flickering candles, and extreme close-ups in the confessional. Phoenix is as crazily watchable as ever as the bonkers Bruno, but the critics were mostly scratching their heads at this bland melodrama. Darius Khondji’s images were reliably deep, however, conveying production designer Happy Massee’s vision of a teeming city which felt similar to Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.
Crowds at the Palais des Festivals are beginning to thin out - only three Competition titles remain after Michael Kohlhaas, an odd, if not dull film based on the early 19th Century novel by Heinrich von Kleist. Its main selling point is Mads Mikkelsen as the titular Robin Hood-style hero rattling around a sparse 16th Century France, exacting revenge for the death of his wife and the abuse of his horses at the hands of a neighbouring baron, although a slippery Princess doesn’t help matters.
Michael Kohlhaas is very low on sets (most of it is shot on the hoof in a somber forest) and very long on throbbing, electronic beats reminiscent of Noe/Refn which threaten much but deliver very little. An early sequence when Koolhaas and his gang of taciturn guerillas launch an attack on the Baron’s castle holds out some hope, but it all peters out for French director Arnaud de Pallieres.
Previously filmed by Volker Schlondorff in 1969 with David Warner in the lead, Michael Kohlhaas was no critical darling, but neither was it booed. Just a few forlorn critics were left scratching their heads and earnestly reading the title sequence to figure out why two characters who previously spoke French to each other, might suddenly, and briefly, broken into German in the middle of the piece.
Thursday May 23
Alexander Payne’s wry black-and-white comedy had a sad, wistful aftertaste and critics greeted this Straight Story road movie as a return to form for the Omaha-born director after The Descendents. Nebraska, although a smaller work than About Schmidt or Sideways, sees the director confidently back on home terrain, as a father and son make a journey from Billings, Montana through the America’s heartland to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim a lottery prize of $1m which is clearly a scam. Bruce Dern is Woody, the father, a taciturn man and probable alcoholic who is in the twilight of his years, suffering from dementia. “Has he got Alzheimer’s?”, asks a receptionist.
“No,” replies son David (Will Forte), “he just believes what people tell him.”
“That’s too bad,” she sighs.
Nebraska is at its strongest when it gazes on the stoic, elderly inhabitants of America’s Midwest, what they endured, created, and, suggests the movie, have now lost. Some of its comic elements are often less successful, a touch too broadly-sketched. Bruce Dern gives a solid, affecting performance as Woody, although he has to work hard to stop June Squibb, as his misanthropic, moaning wife Kate, from stealing the show, as she improbably remembers herself as being the hottest tamale in town. Possible awards consideration for Dern and possibly Squibb will help this black-and-white, somewhat bittersweet nature of the piece in the marketplace come September.
Wednesday May 22
Blue Is The Warmest Colour (La Vie D’Adele, Chapitres 1 et 2)
Nobody really expected, during a lengthy queue in the torrential rain, that the three-hour French film about a teenage lesbian affair would become the Competition sensation. But that’s Cannes, folks. One minute it’s looking like a chore; the next, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is the five-star, must-see, talk of the Croisette. It does feature lengthy sequences of graphic, real sex between two gorgeous young actresses, but that’s not the [only] reason why La Vie D’Adele was so warmly received; it’s also a deeply tender look at first love, however it comes, from Tunisian-born French director Abdellatif Kechiche.
The three-hour running time is admittedly extravagant (and really impossible for the international arthouse to accommodate), but Blue Is The Warmest Colour has a secret weapon in the new actress Adele Exarchopoulos, who plays Adele at the age of 15, when the film starts, and over the following ten years. She’s magnetic, and easily matched by Lea Seydoux as Emma, the lesbian artist she meets at a bar who may well be her life’s true love. Blue is a deeply romantic film, and art, food, philosophy, literature, as well as class, are themes which are hungrily developed alongside sexual identity throughout. A tour de force, yes, and a coup de foudre for the critics as well.
Only God Forgives
Nicolas Winding Refn has his vocal fans, but they needed to dial up the volume after his art-drenched revenge drama Only God Forgives bowed in Competition this morning. Stylish but utterly empty, it teetered on the verge of parody as Ryan Gosling’s epic silent brooding reawakened bruised critical memories of One Eye from Valhalla Rising (as opposed to Driver from Drive). Jeers rang out across the Palais, followed by the inevitable cheers, as critics took sides, and the debate continued well into the halls. The nays have it, although Refn will have his revenge, as ever, on ancillary.
Set in Thailand, which might have a case at the Trades Description Office, Only God Forgives casts Gosling as the younger son of mafia mistress Kristin Scott Thomas (the film’s main selling point as a peroxide blonde The Godmother). When his brother Billy (Tom Burke) rapes and murders a 16-year-old Bangkok prostitute, Julian wimps out on taking revenge - until Mummy comes to town to lick it all into shape. Crystal hasn’t reckoned on The Singing Detective, however, in the shape Thailand’s own avenging angel Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).
It goes without saying that the dialogue-thin Only God Forgives is very violent, or that it’s very beautiful, the composed art direction and camerawork being both typical of Refn’s work but also bringing to mind France’s Gaspar Noe (with a raid on the Asian new wave drawer). It’s all very portentous and quite hollow; if style is your substance then Only God Forgives will satisfy as Everyone Else Forgets.
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun quietly entered the Competition with Africa’s main contender, Grigris, from Chad. His last, A Screaming Man, won the Jury prize here back in 2010, but this was a blander effort. For his lead (the titular Grigris) Haroun cast a talented dancer called Souleymane Deme, whose left leg is crippled, and the film is as much about his performance as it is a story about petrol smugglers, which is where the plot half-heartedly heads. Unfortunately, outside his dancing, Deme doesn’t have much charisma or natural acting ability which dampens the effect of the entire film. Semi-ethnological, this small-scale tale of Grisgris’s foolish attempt to go out on his own in the petrol-smuggling business and reciprocated love for the town’s improbably pretty prostitute is a slight entry in this year’s Cannes canon. Festival play is likely, of course, but the critics certainly weren’t throwing out stars.
Tuesday May 21
Behind The Candelabra
A warm welcome at Cannes for Behind The Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh’s most universal film since Traffic - and possibly even his last feature as a director. Tackling the cinematic biopic - which normally generates at least one acting nomination come Oscar time and this looks to be no different - Soderbergh adds his own twist by presenting the showboating pianist Liberace as a man ahead of his time in a thoroughly engaging film. Ahead of his time artistically, but also personally, as Liberace was one of the first men to be sued for palimony by a gay lover, and also one of the first celebrities to die from AIDS.
Behind The Candelabra presents the story of Liberace’s five-year affair with that lover, Scott Thurson, complete with resounding performances from Michael Douglas and Matt Damon who manage not to be upstaged by their sequined costumes (memorably, in Damon’s case, a pair of diamante-studded speedos). But, oddly enough, the film isn’t particularly camp, and follows the lines of a conventional biopic (apart from a funeral sequence). There are two fantastic cameos to look out for: Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother, and Rob Lowe as the plastic surgeon Jack Startz.
Soderbergh, famously, won the Palme D’Or in Cannes for Sex Lies and Videotape was in 1989 - when he was only 26. If this really is his last film, the Palais D’Or sees him come full circle in his career. Michael Douglas digs deep and shallow for “Lee” Liberace, and it’s a career-topping role for the actor.
A Castle In Italy
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is the only female director in competition this year with the grating French-Italian effort A Castle In Italy, also starring herself. Although in Cannes, you’ll always find someone to defend a film to the death, a strong majority of critics came out with a thumbs down for A Castle In Italy, which is a Europudding-y sub-Woody Allen affair also starring her former partner, Louis Garrel.
Part of the problem seemed to lie with BruniTedeschi’s own highly-mannered performance, playing a neurotic, impoverished aristo - and former actress - now desperate for a child. A Castle In Italy might have sat happily in Un Certain Regard, like her first film, but we’ll never know, and Bruni-Tedeschi has had to endure a few slings and arrows since the film premiered.
Clearly part-autobiographical - A Castle in Italy not only stars her mother and her former lover (as a character with a film-maker father), but the film also features a brother who is dying from AIDS, which mirrors Bruni Tedeschi’s own experience. Probably, judging by the reactions at Cannes, it’s a film for the curious or even the prurient. Although there’s no younger sister called Carla…
Monday May 20
The Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza)
As the Competition reached its half-way mark, Paolo Sorrentino treated Cannes critics to an extravagant ode to life, love and Rome with his Fellini La Dolce Vita salute The Great Beauty. Gorgeous visuals, engaging dialogue, an entrancing score - but also occasionally indulgent and meandering - that’s the Sorrentino Cannes has come to love. The audience cheered his daring and vision, as well they might. The scale and ambition of The Great Beauty’s world-weary opulence makes it feel like a Palme d’Or candidate, and must surely be in contention when Spielberg’s jury debates. Luca Bigazzi’s velvety images will be rewarded, if not here, then on the awards circuit next year; The Great Beauty’s opening sequence alone commands immediate respect - if not devotion.
This is Sorrentino’s fourth time in Competition at Cannes (Il Divo won the Jury prize for the director) and reunites him with Toni Servillo (who won Best Actor for his performance as Andreotti in Il Divo) for the fifth time. The pairing seems to reach its nexus in Servillo’s portrayal of world-weary writer Jep Gambardella, once an promising talent but now living a jaded life of some decadence amongst the Rome elite. Starting out on his 65th birthday, Jep casts a wry eye on the city, recalling his youth and regretting his missed potential. At 140 minutes it was, at the same time, too much - but also not enough. A surefire critical leader.
Shield of Straw
The critics found their collective voice this morning to give Takashi Miike’s implausible crime drama Shield of Straw the benefit of their noisy derision. It was Monday morning, 8.30am, the first lightly-attended Competition premiere of the festival and, at 124 mins, seemingly all too much. The prolific Osaka-born Miike - he makes Johnnie To look like Terence Malick - was here out of Competition last year, and in Competition in 2011 with the 3D Hara Kiri, Death of A Samurai, which went down poorly in the press screening but turned out to be a strong seller internationally, so let’s not write off Shield of Straw just yet.
The compelling actor Takao Osawa has his work cut out for him in this high-concept drama, which starts out looking like a fabulous remake property. He plays agent Mekari, a crack member of the Tokyo police’s security division. He’s a little troubled - talks to his dead wife - already and matters worsen when he is charged with delivering child-abusing murderer safely to prison after the dead girl’s wealthy grandfather puts a Yen1 billion reward on his head. Now the whole of Japan is set against Mekari (Osawa) and his team of elite agents, from medical staff to prison guards and even the security force itself. Nanako Matshushima plays his ambitious police rookie sidekick.
While Miike gives good concept and some fantastic set pieces at the outset [on a security bus and the bullet train], eventually Shield of Straw runs out of places to hide. Folding in on itself, the screenplay it deals with Miieke’s twin themes of honour and violence, but looks half-heartedly planned and executed. The critics weren’t forgiving either, and initial feedback suggest low scores all round.
Sunday May 19
Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam has stepped up to Competition for the first time with the darkly comic, intriguing home invasion parable Borgman, a Funny Games or Theorem for Cannes 66th edition. As always, opinions were diverse, but the general consensus at the press screening was favourable - although many argued that the inventive Borgman runs out steam towards its conclusion.
A niche arthouse title also clearly bound for the festival circuit, Borgman plays its narrative close to its chest to the point where it seems unfair to give too much away in a blog. Flemish actor Jan Bijvoet plays the mysterious drifter Camiel Borgman, who insinuates himself into the affluent life of Marina (Hadewych Minis), her arrogant TV executive husband Richard (Jeroen Perceval), and their three children, with interesting consequences. Van Warmerdam, previously in Cannes UCR with Waiter and The Last Days of Emma Blank, has significantly changed direction for this, his eighth film, in which he also appears as suited henchman Ludwig. Probably not a chart-topper, but “bubbling under” in a Cannes competition year which is looking increasingly strong.
Saturday May 18
Inside Llewyn Davis
There’s nothing like a warm Coen Bros film to heat up a damp and bedraggled room full of critics, who didn’t just applaud Inside Llewyn Davis at the end credits but actually broke out into spontaneous noisy appreciation in the middle of the feature (after a storming performance of a track called Please Mr Kennedy featuring Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver). And this is supposed to be a tough room.
Travelling back in time to look at the folk artists of Greenwich Village in the 1960s, Inside Llewyn Davis is a smaller, more anecdotal Coen Bros film, in the vein of A Serious Man or - dare we say it - the Palme D’Or-winning Barton Fink. T Bone Burnett has again arranged an appealing soundtrack, although the dated whimsy of folk is unlikely to match the 8million sales of his work on O Brother, Where Art Thou?
This film is based loosely on the posthumous memoirs of (unsuccessful) folk singer Dave Von Ronk, and boasts a career-making performance for Oscar Isaac in the central role of down and out folkie Lleywn Davis, the forerunner to Bob Dylan and his gang. But Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan and Coen Brothers favourite John Goodman all shine in a loose narrative filled with memorable moments. The critics immediately rallied, spirits lifted, and the film was declared the popular leader of the critics chart - although, to sound a note of caution, it’s only Day 5. And it doesn’t deal with the Big Issues Cannes is so fond of. But there is a fabulous cat (or two).
Jimmy P. [Pyschotherapy of a Plains Indian]
Arnaud Desplechin’s first English-language film is a slow-burner which, after an uneven start, gave audiences at the Palais much to digest. Some critics found the dialogue - this is about a psychoanalyst and his sessions with a traumatised patient - indigestible, but Jimmy P. has considerable meat on its bones and the applause was strong. Anchored by a persuasive lead from Benicio Del Toro as a Blackfoot Indian struggling with mental illness in the wake of the Second World War, Jimmy P. benefits from Desplechin’s understated outsider’s perspective. His regular collaborator Mathieu Almaric almost hijacks the piece, however - and not in an entirely good way - as Georges Devereux, a Hungarian anthropologist with an array of actorly tics who draws Jimmy out of his Plains reverie. Howard Shore scores with gusto.
Del Toro won the Best Actor award in Cannes for his performance as Che Guevara in 2008, and Arnaud Desplechin was last here on the Croisette with A Christmas Tale, also in 2008, and Jimmy P. is should commercially run between those two tram lines. It’s a film along the lines of last year’s The Master, which engages critics - and awards voters - with its flawed brilliance but intensely divides audiences. Those left cold by it, however, already seem frigid to its charm.
Like Father, Like Son
Hirokazu Kore-eda returns to Competition at Cannes with Like Father, Like Son, a wry, intermittently poignant, switched-at-birth drama which received a polite reception at the Palais but failed to fully satisfy hungry critics. As beautifully crafted as any of his child-focused works, from Tell No-One (which won Best Actor for its young lead here in 2004) to last year’s I Wish, Like Father Like Son falls short of the mastery of Kore-eda at his best (Still Walking, for example).
Like Father, Like Son’s principal appeal is Fukuyama Masahiru - Japan’s all-time best-selling male solo singer and star of the TV series Galileo - as the work-obsessed, controlling Tokyo father whose life is turned upside down when he discovers his disappointingly wet six-year-old son has been switched at birth. Upper class and uptight, he is further devastated when his meets the lower-class parents of his biological child. They decide to swap, but Kore-eda keeps empathy at a distance in a film where the drama is overcome by the protagonist’s - and the film’s - unanswered questions about the nature of fatherhood. Fans of Kore-eda have come to expect this single-minded pursuit from a director who has been hailed as an heir to Ozu, but the critics smilingly kept their distance. Of note: Kore-eda says he will “probably continue to look [at fatherhood] in my films until I figure it out.” Child actors agents in Japan must be relieved, although the actor who plays six-year-old Yukari is less than a natural.
Friday May 17
Moving well into Day 3 of the Cannes Competition, no boos have reverberated around the Palais press screenings - as yet. Certainly not for Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, which drew a decent hand of applause and early reviews which just fell a fraction short of raves. Farhadi’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning A Separation is an intense, claustrophobic drama - some action appropriately takes place by the kitchen sink - with a particularly strong central performance from Berenice Bejo, ably calibrated by Tahar Rahim and Ali Mostafa.
Completely engaging, it plays out entirely within a family trying to loosen the chains of the past as Ahmad (Mostafa) arrives from Tehran to sign the papers finalising his divorce from Marie (Bejo), about to enter her third marriage to Samir (Ramin) and packing more baggage than the Majestic bellhop.
Farhadi has a keen, poignant eye on the devastating effects adult shenanigans have on their observant children - namely, Marie’s two girls from her first marriage and Samir’s young son, grieving his mother. The Past, however, falters when it comes to breaking out of the domestic spin-cycle of accusation and counter-accusation into a wider resonance. It boasts, after Ozon’s Marine Vacth, another resonant performance from a beautiful young actress, Belgium’s Pauline Burlet. She looks uncannily like a young Marion Cotillard, and, in fact, played the young Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. A striking talent, particularly in Farhadi’s final frames.
Thursday May 16
A Touch of Sin
China’s Jia Zhang-ke set hearts a-flutter in the Palais with his brutal vision of modern-day China in A Touch Of Sin: a significant change of style for the digi-darling of the festival circuit (third time in Cannes, Golden Lion winner). This was news at last! Abandoning his careful blend of documentary and drama - although the beauty remains - Jia’s four stories of violence and rage in modern China were raw and overt, harking back to his days as an underground director. Even though the film was backed by the heavyweight official Shanghai Film Group, A Touch of Sin seemed impossibly outspoken and overwhelmingly negative.
Jia’s films of course have tracked - with a critical eye - the intense personal fall-out from China’s acceleration to become the world’s economic engine, but this was a much more brutal affair. A large-scale road movie, tracking through China from agricultural Shanxi in the North to Guandong Province in the South, it was also extremely violent, its four true-life stores exploding in rage and futility.
Intriguingly, A Touch of Sin (a reference to King Hu’s A Touch of Zen) paid tribute to the wuxia genre, the classical Chinese struggle against oppression played out on the road. Some critics found it repetitive: each story, and its violent conclusion, made the same point, and the weave was admittedly uneven. Jia “purists” were displeased. Most were very receptive, and excited by the change, which will undoubtedly grant Jia a wider arthouse access. Everyone was taken aback by how clear and forthright Jia Zhang-ke was about the rot - nay, moral bankruptcy - in his country. Cannes Competition has a leader.
(China, incidently, has never fully won the Palme D’Or, with Chen Caige’s Farewell My Concubine sharing the honour with Jane Campion’s The Piano in 1993).
Young & Beautiful (Jeune et Jolie)
Toying with Belle de Jour, Jeune et Jolie - featuring a teenager who moonlights as a prostitute - marks Francois Ozon’s first return to Cannes Competition since Swimming Pool in 2003. After recent commercial and critical successes with Potiche and In The House, Ozon has assembled all the ingredients for the “classic” French film - most notably an affluent young beauty (Marina Vacth) and the struggle to find herself which ends - naturellement - in prostitution with much older men.
Clearly, this is as close it gets to the international arthouse’s version of a tentpole film and buyers will be happy. The critics were divided, although not passionately so - this middle-class Parisien dilemma was not to all tastes, but most have been respectful of an engaging, glossily watchable film. (At least, thus far: although packed, the screening clashed with Ari Folman’s Directors’ Fortnight opener The Congress). In the model Vacth, Ozon has found a luminous new face of cinema which flits easily between teenage resentment and adult understanding. His camera adores her.
Wednesday May 15
Who wants to go first? Amat Escalante’s credible Heli led the pack out of the gate for Cannes 2013, a tricky slot for any film. A lengthy torture scene involving a man’s penis being set on fire (some leg-crossingly realistic stunt work) prompted one or two tender-hearted critics to leave the Palais roughly mid-way through proceedings, but most stayed on and the violence duly died down, although it haunted the rest of the film.
Mexico’s Escalante is a Cannes baby - formerly an assistant to Carlos Reygadas (who co-produced Heli), his debut feature Sangre screened in UCR in 2005 winning FIPRESCI, followed by Los Bastardos in 2008. Heli moves Escalante up to Competition and, in its favour, loses some of the static pacing of his previous two films, if none of their tendency to shock with unflinching bursts of violence.
Led by a cast of unprofessional actors, this tells the all-too realistic story of factory worker and young father Heli, whose 12-year-old sister’s romance with a police trainee has horrific consequences for the entire family as Escalante brings Mexico’s well-documented drugs war to believable life. Heli is a solid, well-made film, but struggles to maintain, losing some of its impact as the momentum eases off. Critical verdict thus far? Respect, but not unqualified love. Time -and the quality of the rest of the line-up - could enhance its reputation.
The Great Gatsby (Out of Competition)
The opening sensation of Cannes - DiCaprio! Mulligan! Baz! - was less of a cause celebre in the Debussy screening room this morning, with few critics left who hadn’t seen The Great Gatsby prior to Cannes Day 1 (those who remained watched it well after news emerged of a $51m US opening weekend, an unusual experience in Cannes, usually so keen on world premieres or day-and-date at the very least). Nobody booed. But few critics came out in wholehearted support of Baz Luhrmann’s very literal confection, either, although his affection for the text of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel has been generally respected.
The eye-popping, 3D bling of Luhrmann’s Australia-shot portrayal of America’s Jazz Age was never one for the white-card fraternity and will look to the multiplex for love instead - and to Cannes for worldwide headlines. The Great Gatsby, after all, is Baz Lurhmann all over; not a subtlety is left shaded, and that meets its match in Cannes’ opening night festivities.
Executive producer Jay Z’s popping hip-hop soundtrack has an unexpected resonance, and Lurhmann’s wife and collaborator Catherine Martin’s costumes will give Gatsby a modern appeal as the work eyes its centenary, although the Disney-ish sets eventually prove a sugary overdose for even the most forbearing.
In short, Baz has kicked off Cannes with a brashness which is unlikely to be even remotely matched by the art films which follow over the next 12 days.