When Warner Bros’ announced last year that they were shifting Baz Luhrmann’s lavish 3D interpretation of “The Great Gatsby” from Christmas 2012 to an early summer release date, my first thought was that a Cannes date had to be on the cards. Then, when the film’s US release date was nailed down as May 10, five days before the festival begins, I was both puzzled and doubtful: with US projects of that magnitude, Cannes tends to secure the world premiere.
Turns out I overthought things, and that my initial instinct was correct. “The Great Gatsby” has been selected as the curtain-raiser for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, 12 years after Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!” performed the same duty.
Cannes may not have got a world premiere this time out — unlike such recent A-list openers as “Up,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Midnight in Paris” — but it’s a felicitous choice all the same. As well as assuring them a customarily starry red-carpet kickoff, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire presumably all in attendance, it also maintains their longstanding relationship with Luhrmann: in addition to “Moulin Rouge!,” his debut feature “Strictly Ballroom” premiered in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section back in 1992.
After “Up,” it’s the second 3D film to open the festival. It will not, however, join Takashi Miike’s “Hara Kiri: Death of a Samurai” on the very short list of 3D films to have competed for the Palme d’Or. “Gatsby” is playing out of Competition, safe from the scrutiny of Steven Spielberg and his fellow jurors. That isn’t exactly a surprise — and indeed is often the case with Cannes openers, most recently with “Midnight in Paris” — though it’s worth noting that “Moulin Rouge!” braved the Competition in 2001.
The question now is whether or not Luhrmann’s risky project lives up to the pressure of the opening night slot, which is often seen as something of a poisoned chalice. From “My Blueberry Nights” to “Blindness” to “Robin Hood,” Cannes openers have missed the target more often than they’ve hit recently, but the festival reversed the curse in the last two years: “Midnight in Paris” and “Moonrise Kingdom” both found critical and audience favor (and went on to garner Oscar nominations).
Something tells me the critics will have the knives out for Luhrmann no matter what, but the film should still reap the benefits of both the prestige and the publicity that come with the slot. (It opens in France the very same day, so expect an all-out media assault.) And with the film opening in the US beforehand, Luhrmann’s team will have already faced the reviews, and can simply enjoy the Croisette razzle-dazzle. As can I: for all its intimations of folly, this remains one of my most keenly anticipated films of the year.