A strange mood hovered over the Cannes Film Festival's opening-night ceremony Wednesday night, as the Grace Kelly biopic "Grace of Monaco" — or one of its versions, anyway — premiered to a muted response at an otherwise hoopla-filled event.
In the Riviera region where much of the Kelly story took place, the glitzy trappings were everywhere. An elegant Nicole Kidman who stars in the film posed atop the red-carpeted steps of the Palais de Festivals in a manner that evoked Kelly. The French actor Lambert Wilson took the stage to greet Kidman and co-star Tim Roth as "Princess Nicole" and "Prince Tim," even breaking with Cannes politesse to enter the crowd and spontaneously dance with Kidman at her seat.
But the screening was marred by a battle between U.S distributor the Weinstein Co. and the French filmmakers, including director Olivier Dahan and producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam. The former had last summer rejected a cut submitted by the French filmmakers and instead edited its own version with a different tone and feel.
It was the version the French preferred that screened at Cannes. Opening night films at this festival tend to generate prolonged standing ovations, but the clapping for "Grace" was polite and relatively brief. A press screening earlier in the day also generated only modest excitement at best.
The audience did not seem to spark to the at-times overwrought account, which focused only somewhat on Kelly's private life and chose to emphasize her reactions to the standoff between Prince Rainier and French leader Charles de Gaulle over Monagasque sovereignty. The movie centers only on this period; the courtship and the aftermath of the standoff are barely covered.
The events at the start of the world's most prestigious film festival were the most public example yet of a long-simmering battle. Harvey Weinstein and the French filmmakers have been trading salvos for months, with Weinstein's edits prompting Dahan to go on a tirade in the French media in the fall and the French filmmakers retaliating by successfully submitting it as the Cannes opening night film without consulting Weinstein in January.
Weinstein did not make the trip to opening night, which in turn offered the rare prospect of Kidman — with whom Weinstein often collaborates — basking in the attention without him.
Making matters more surreal, a representative for the U.S. film mogul issued a statement earlier in the day seeking to explain his absence.
"My wife Georgina and I have been in Jordan visiting two Syrian refugee camps, Al Zaatri yesterday and Azraq today," Weinstein said in a statement.
The statement said "this was a long planned trip" aimed at bringing more attention to the plight of refugees.
Meanwhile, Dahan's expression and body language suggested a filmmaker uncomfortable about the state of affairs; he barely smiled at the premiere.
The audience reaction to the film leaves open Weinstein's next move. He could, of course, dump or withhold the French version of "Grace of Monaco."
But, in a way, the tepid response could give him an opening to say he has the solution to what ails the film and offer a chance for him to vindicate himself in the battle with Dahan.