By Moira Sullivan.
Nearly 4,000 accredited journalists descend upon the city of Cannes for a week and a half of cinema magic and what looks like heavy rain for the first few days. The opening festivities for the 66th Cannes Film Festival revolved around the out of competition The Great Gatsby. At the press conference, Baz Luhrmann rather pompously explained how touching it was that an admirer came up to him after a screening and told him how her grandfather, the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, would have liked it. “Ironically, the book was written to make some quick money,” said Luhrmann, who informed the press corps that more people had read The Great Gatsby in the film’s opening week than in Fitzgerald’s lifetime. However, Leonardo DiCaprio reminded Luhrmann that the context of this theatrical release should be held distinct from the virtues of the Fitzgerald’s work. Gatsby has been already released in the USA on May 10, and it remains to be seen if the film will illicit French whistles.
After Gatsby’s showing, the Cannes Film Festival began in earnest with an opening ceremony featuring Jury President Steven Spielberg. Prior to Spielberg’s speech, the Maîtresse de Cérémonie Audrey Tautou’s introduced a collage of the director’s most celebrated films, beginning with her personal favorite: E.T. the Extra-Terrestial (1982). Tatou’s remarks at the ceremony were those of a star struck girl at the movies rather than the mature actress she has become. Afterward, there was a commemoration of the Cannes out of competition film The Color Purple (1985). A choir sang the theme song with a solo by vocalist Crystal, dressed in a Tuxedo, something that was notably not on the minds of the French press this evening with their attention to the stars and women in evening gowns. Once Spielberg took the stage, he playfully acknowledged that the Cannes Film Festival has been around as long as he has–66 years. He then took the time to speak about some of the films that will be shown and to introduce his jury: Daniel Auteuil, Vidya Balan, Naomi Kawase, Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, Cristian Mungiu, Lynne Ramsay, and Christoph Waltz.
This year, the nominated films in the official competition range from human relationships to love to violence. Jia Zheng-ke’s A Touch of Sin and Takashi Miike’s Shield of Straw are among the more visceral entries. However, one of the more exciting titles has to be Abdellatif Kechiche’s La Vie D’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Color), a story of two women who fall in love, starring Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. The film almost seems like an antidote to Cristian Mungiu’s tragic Beyond the Hills, in competition at Cannes last year, which echoed the parade of films from the 60’s about lesbians in couples in which one usually winds up dying or leaving her lover for a man, such as The Fox (1967) and The Children’s Hour (1961). The Queer Palm Jury this year, organized in 2011 by French journalist Franck Finance-Madureira, is headed by the cult Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues. La Vie D’Adèle and Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candalabra, a biopic on gay entertainer Liberace starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in smashing new roles, are some of the candidates for this award, which is becoming a valuable and vital part of the Cannes lineup.
In addition to the official competition, Cannes features the Marché du Film (Film Market), full of exciting films offered outside of jury consideration. Cannes has also risen to the challenge of showcasing more women behind the camera with this year’s Un Certain Regard, featuring eight films by women, nearly half of which were chosen under the watch of jury president Thomas Vinterberg. Meanwhile, Semaine de la Critique (Critic’s Week) finds Mia Hansen-Løve heading up the Jury du Prix Découverte du court métrage and du Prix Révélation France 4 competitions. Another competition will be for the Camera d’Or award, or best debut feature, presided over by Agnes Varda. The short film and Cinéfoundation competitions will be led by jury president Jane Campion. Additionally, several Cannes classics will be seen at special screenings, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) complete with a guest appearance from Kim Novak. There will also be new restoration films and an homage to the centennial of the birth of Indian films.
At the close of the opening ceremony, Leonardo DiCaprio (who has been in several of Spielberg’s films) came on stage together with Amitabh Armitabh, who was also featured in The Great Gatsby. DiCaprio declared the festival open and the evening ended with fireworks and soggy beach parties on the Riviera.
Moira Sullivan is an accredited journalist at Cannes, and served on the Queer Palm Jury 2012. She is a member of FIPRESCI with a doctorate in cinema studies from Stockholm University and graduate studies in film at San Francisco State University.