The art of the blockbuster took center stage on the opening day of the Cannes Film Festival, with Steven Spielberg presiding over the festival jury and Baz Luhrmann presenting his big-budget "The Great Gatsby."
Cloudy skies did little to dim the frenzy of the start of the 12-day French Riviera extravaganza, where dozens of the world's most artistically ambitious films are set to premiere on the festival's global platform. Wednesday, though, was a day for star power.
Spielberg has had films at Cannes before, including "E.T." and "Sugarland Express," but never in competition. His presence here is a rarity, and he was received like a visiting head of state, a king of cinema.
He's serving as president of a jury that will decide the prestigious Palm d'Or, given to one of the 20 competing films. (Entries include new works from the Coen brothers, Alexander Payne and Steven Soderbergh.) This year's jury is an intimidating, starry bunch, including Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee and Christoph Waltz.
"Everyone sits in judgment of us," Spielberg said. "So it's our turn."
Luhrmann's 3-D adaption of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is this year's festival opener, a choice that surprised many since the film opened last week in North America. Cannes typically takes precedence over release schedules, but "Gatsby" sails onto the Croisette after a robust weekend haul of $51.1 million.
After Luhrmann noted in a news conference that the film had pushed Fitzgerald's novel to the top of the bestseller list (selling more copies in a week than in the author's lifetime), DiCaprio added with a grin: "And a little film adaptation is doing quite well at the box office."
But while "Gatsby" is getting a victory lap on the Cannes' red carpet, it comes to the festival with the sting of mixed reviews. Many film critics have taken issue with the movie's stylistic flourishes.
"I knew that would come," said Luhrmann, noting Fitzgerald's 1925 novel was also initially received poorly. "I just care that people are going out and seeing it. I really am so moved by that."
"Gatsby" plays out of competition at the festival, but Spielberg should have his hands full with a slate lacking any obvious favorite. Internationally-respected filmmakers like Roman Polanski ("Venus in Fur"), Asghar Farhadi ("The Past) and Jim Jarmusch ("Only Lovers Left Alive") are to premiere their films in competition.
Every year, the Cannes jury president is psychoanalyzed to help predict the Palme d'Or winner. This year is no different, with onlookers guessing that Spielberg will either gravitate toward the kind of warm-hearted films he's best known for, or seek to deliberately contradict that assumption with a more audacious choice.
The international jury also includes Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, Japanese director Naomi Kawase, French actor Daniel Auteuil and Bollywood star Vidya Balan.
"I'm going to have to look at the Sidney Lumet film '12 Angry Men,' again as a tutorial to prepare myself for the final day of deliberation," Spielberg said with a smile.