The Cannes Film Festival opened on Wednesday, and it sure didn't take long for members of the press corp to get their daggers out: Their target was director Olivier Dahan's biopic/fashion video, Grace of Monaco, which stars Nicole Kidman as Princess Grace. At the end of a Wednesday afternoon press screening, journalists were saying, "Harvey was right," alluding to the dust-up between Harvey Weinstein, who paid $5 million up front, sight unseen, for the film, and Dahan, best-known for 2007's La Vie en Rose, the hugely successful Edith Piaf biopic, which earned its star, Marion Cotillard, an Oscar.
As has been exhaustively reported, Weinstein was threatening to, in essence, dump the film because he and Dahan couldn't agree on a final edit -- Harvey rightly thought the film was flawed in its current state. But just this morning, he and Dahan made peace, after Weinstein was able to shave $2 million off his initial price and seemingly get an assurance from Dahan that the duo will make edits as necessary for the U.S. release. I hate to break it to them, but edits have no chance of saving this train wreck of a film.
Now, to be fair, opening-night films at Cannes are hardly ever well-received or high up on critics' lists (the films are, after all, out of competition for a reason), however, this year Dahan's film received exceptionally scathing reviews, most notably from The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Dalton, who rightly panned the awful film, calling it "unforgivably dull." And he's being kind. Variety's May 15 front-page headline of their daily Cannes edition screamed, "'Monaco' Craps Out as Cannes Opener."
Tim Roth and Nicole Kidman in Grace of Monaco.
Tim Roth plays Prince Rainier, who was rather laughably called "Ray" by his family and friends. The film goes a little something like this: Poor Grace Kelly. She married her prince and decided to give up acting at the height of her career to become Mrs. Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi. The Prince gets locked into a skirmish with French President Charles de Gaulle, who, kinda rightly, was pissed off that Monaco was simply acting as a tax haven for the rich. In the film, this brouhaha is elevated to World War III status, where Princess Grace swoops in and saves the day by rallying European heads of state to her cause, saying that millionaires (today, billionaires) are people too; they have feelings too; they're just like you and me; they deserve this tax haven. Heck, it's a story line guaranteed to make the entire Romney family weep incessantly.
In other news, so far two competition films have screened: director Abderrahman Sissako's Timbuktu and Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner. Timbuktu, screening for the press Wednesday evening, was tepidly received. It's about violent self-appointed militias in Mali, enforcing Sharia law. Although the film features some beautiful shots, the turgid pacing and head-scratching plot quickly renders the film forgettable.
Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner.
The same can't be said for Mike Leigh's gazillionth film to be featured at Cannes, Mr. Turner; it stars Leigh favorite Timothy Spall as the idiosyncratic British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner during the last 25 years of his life. The cherubic man-child Spall -- pasty, grunting, disheveled -- delivers a multifaceted performance as the wildly prolific and intensely misunderstood 19th-century British artist. Leigh appropriately focuses in on the tumultuous years leading up to Turner's death, when the painter sinks into depression after his father/studio manager dies. The problem with the film is that we never really get a sense of who Turner was; we see him having affairs and we see his brilliance as an artist, but the man himself is shrouded in mystery. It didn't help that Spall's thick British accent often made it hard to decipher dialogue; I had to rely on the French subtitles often to catch up.
I'll be writing for Interview magazine while at the festival and will post links when my coverage goes live.