(Reuters) – With huge yachts bobbing in the Mediterranean and luxury boutiques along the famous La Croisette boulevard making finishing touches to their displays, the 12-day pageant that is the international film world’s answer to Hollywood’s Oscars kicks off with the world premiere of “Grace of Monaco”.
“I think the selection has so many talents now that it’s like (being) a kid in a candy store,” Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn said as he arrived on Tuesday.
Winding Refn is one of nine judges on a majority female jury headed by New Zealand director Jane Campion, the only woman ever to win the festival’s top Palme d’Or prize.
There are 18 films in competition for the Palme d’Or, which will be handed out along with other prizes at the end of the festival on May 24.
It is a huge draw for the industry and public alike, with an estimated 127,000 visitors expected, plus 30,000 accredited professionals, 4,000 journalists and 700 technicians, according to a periodical distributed by the festival.
Benedicte Bourdon, 30, visiting for the first time with her parents from the northwestern French city of Cherbourg, said she had no idea which stars would show up on the other side of a security cordon where she was standing outside a hotel, but being there was a thrill.
“It’s great fun to be here,” Bourdon said. “Films can make you feel emotion or laugh, and some make you reflect on life.”
Last year some of those who attended the festival were less than welcome, having made off with jewels worth several million dollars.
The security presence this year is conspicuous, with dark-jacketed men standing outside or immediately inside fancy boutiques, but it is no more than usual, a security guard said.
“It was already at the maximum,” said the guard who did not want to give his name for what he said were “security reasons”.
The opening film stars Nicole Kidman as the Hollywood actress Grace Kelly who became the Princess of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier, and died following a car crash in 1982 in the hills of the principality, not far from Cannes.
Kidman and other stars will ascend the famous red carpet on Wednesday night to the cinema inside the Palais des Festivals et des Congres for the glittering opening event under the watchful eye of the world’s media, which has staked out viewing spots and parked stepladders for photographers days in advance.
Trade talk of a dispute between the film’s French director, Olivier Dahan, and its American distributor, producer Harvey Weinstein, has only served to reinforce the reputation of Cannes for producing a scandal or two, which festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux sees as a good thing.
“Controversy by the way is also something which built Cannes and which makes people focus on films. And these are not really really strong or – how can I say – in a way it’s nice, it’s part of the folklore of Cannes, it’s part of the passion of cinema,” Fremaux told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
Since the selection of the 18 films to be presented in competition was unveiled in April, critics have said the festival this year might suffer from a lack of stars on its red carpet. But Fremaux said he was happy with the selection.
“The choices we have made are the choices we have made and now we are going to deliver the selection to the press and I feel quite comfortable because first we love the movies we’ve picked up, we think we did the best with the films which were submitted to us,” he said.
Even if Cannes remains the one event on the crowded film festival calendar that the big players most want to attend, a senior editor at U.S. entertainment magazine Variety said it was scaling back.
“You see Cannes scaling back. And you see it … for Cannes, for Cannes standards it’s a little smaller than Cannes usually is,” Ramin Setoodeh said.
“That said, it’s still a very big festival, you have stars from Nicole Kidman to Robert Pattinson, to Kristen Stewart, Ryan Gosling had his directorial debut here at Cannes. So it’s still a pretty big festival, it’s just not as big as Cannes has always been.”
(Additional reporting by Matthew Stock, Mike Davidson and Rollo Ross; Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by James Dalgleish)