By Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
CANNES, France - Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby took on a second life at the gala opening of the 66th Cannes Film Festival Wednesday evening.
With the film's stars Leo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan walking a rain-splashed red carpet for the international festival's grand opening, the filmmaker enjoyed a victory lap of sorts.
It helped that the Cannes debut came after last weekend's U.S. premiere, which enjoyed a surprisingly strong $51.1 million box office and sent champagne corks flying at distributor Warner Bros.
A relaxed Luhrmann was able to finally push aside pre-release concerns about the film's viability - and some tough critical reviews - to enjoy his showcase moment in the south of France.
Luhrmann said he was not as concerned about the reviews.
"I made Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet and never got one of those high critic scores," Luhrmann said at a press conference before the gala. "I just care that people are going out to see it."
Hundreds of fans flocked to the event despite a steady rain that covered DiCaprio's tuxedo jacket as he shook hands with the crowd outside the Cannes Palais du Festival. The rain didn't dampen the atmosphere as Jazz Age dancers boogied on the red carpet before the cast entered under large umbrellas.
DiCaprio, who plays title character Jay Gatsby, was given the honor of opening the festival from the stage. Some writers had predicted the notoriously vocal French audience would boo the film (the headline for industry website TheWrap.com asked: "Will the Boo Birds Be Out for The Great Gatsby?").
Yet the crowd was silent during the 2-hour, 20-minute film, watched by the competition jury consisting of directors Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee and actors Nicole Kidman and Christoph Waltz. The crowd gave the cast a standing ovation after the credits rolled.
Luhrmann said he found parallels between the making of his movie and the experiences of F. Scott Fitzgerald as he wrote what would become an iconic American novel. Fitzgerald, too, faced fierce criticism after writing his book (published in 1925) about self-made Gatsby's quest for his love, Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan), and the American dream.
"He was horrendously criticized when the book came out," said Luhrmann. "A major critic called him 'this clown' and said that his characters were 'marionettes.' When Fitzgerald died - this is so unbelievable - he was so forgotten he was buying copies of his own books to help his sales."
There was a further parallel in that Fitzgerald wrote the book in the south of France, "some 20 miles down the road" from where the cast viewed the film at the premiere.
"And his wife (Zelda) was having an affair just down from here," Luhrmann added. "There was a French airman buzzing their house that she was having an affair with. The thing I think about is the pain and beauty that went into the writing."
After the release date of Luhrmann's lavish 3-D spectacle was moved from the winter of 2012 to last week, pundits predicted the film would flop. Luhrmann acknowledged there were some anxious moments with distributor Warner Bros.
"We had a rocky moment," he said of one meeting with company executives. Yet he reminded them of other gambles the company had made that paid true dividends.
"'There's another film about a mysterious guy. It's a love story. And yet somehow it's about something more than that. It's called Casablanca.' " Luhrmann recalled saying.
This kind of film is in the company's "DNA," he added.
"And ultimately Gatsby found its way home."