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Cannes breaks tradition with its opening film

 | March 18, 2013

The Festival in the past has reserved the opening slot for a movie that has not been screened elsewhere. Not this time.


The Cannes Film Festival, whose 66th edition will unroll on May 15, has reportedly gone against tradition in choosing Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby as the opening night movie.

The film will hit North American theatres on May 10, five days before the start of Cannes. The Festival has – at least for the past 10 years – reserved the opening slot for a movie that has not been screened elsewhere.

And an opening film has benefitted enormously from premiering on the glitzy Cannes Croisette (beach front). And so has the Festival, which earned exciting mileage out of screening a movie on the first night that has not been seen by anybody. For the viewer, including a critic, it has always been such a thrill to watch a work that none had seen before.

The Great Gatsby producer, Warner Brothers, has, according to reports, refused to shift the May 10 date, because the summer is crowded with several of the studio’s releases.

Yet, Cannes has decided to overlook tradition and run The Great Gatsby on May 15. There is also a risk in this.  If the film is slammed by critics in North America, some of excitement that a Cannes opener generates can be missing.

However, The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, will have its international premiere coinciding with the Cannes start date.

A few reasons have been thrown about for Cannes choosing The Great Gatsby. Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge opened the Festival in 2001 to favourable reviews, and Francis Scott Fitzgerald – whose iconic novel forms the movie’s story    — wrote the final chapters in a villa close to Cannes.

Festival Director Thierry Fremaux tweeted: Fitzgerald in his time essentially invented the Cote d’Azur (French Riviera, where Cannes lies) and that the author and his wife were amorous fans of The Carlton Hotel in Cannes as well as the Hotel du Cap in nearby Antibes.

The film’s illustrious star cast could have been another reason for Cannes’ decision.

Yet, all said and done, an opening movie without a world premiere tag is unprecedented. Hollywood films that have opened the Festival in recent times – last year’s Moonrise Kingdom, Midnight in Paris (2011), Robin Hood (2010), Up (2009), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and The Di Vinci Code (2006) – were all world premieres.

In 1999, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, did not get the opening night slot, despite Cannes being interested in it, because George Lucas and 20th Century Fox decided to premiere it at New York.

The Great Gatsby is therefore all set to create history at Cannes.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic, who has covered the Cannes Film Festival for over two decades. He may be emailed at [email protected]


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