DiCaprio Defends Gatsby From Cannes Critics, Sales Surge

Leonardo DiCaprio scans the sumptuous grounds of his Long Island chateau as dozens of revelers guzzle champagne, dance the foxtrot and dive into a monogrammed pool.

“I’m Gatsby,” he beams, introducing himself to the viewer in Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D extravaganza “The Great Gatsby.”

The movie opened the Cannes Film Festival in France last night, after grossing $50.1 million on its opening weekend -- and drawing mostly downbeat reviews.

“I knew that would come,” Luhrmann said of the critical drubbing as he addressed reporters in Cannes. “I just care that people are going out and seeing it. I really am so moved by that.”

Luhrmann said he felt rewarded at the U.S. premiere when a “regal woman” from Vermont, who turned out to be author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s granddaughter, congratulated him.

The Australian-born filmmaker also boasted that more copies of the novel were sold last week than in the author’s lifetime. At that point, DiCaprio -- who had appeared restless on arrival and ordered espressos even before sitting down -- chimed in.

“And the little film adaptation is doing quite well at the box office,” said the actor, sporting a dark goatee.

On screen, Luhrmann gives the subject his usual cartoon-like treatment. Characters initially seem cardboard cutouts (unlike in the 1974 adaptation starring Robert Redford). Settings resemble theme parks, an effect that’s exacerbated by the use of 3-D technology. Only halfway through, when DiCaprio’s character reveals a painfully romantic disposition, does the drama come to life.

Gershwin, Rap

Atmospheric group scenes are better handled, especially when there’s music thrown in. Gatsby’s confetti-laden bashes are filmed from all angles, with a soundtrack that fuses jazz and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with brief bursts of hip-hop.

Luhrmann told reporters in Cannes that he got the urge to adapt the novel when he heard a taped version on a train ride through Siberia 10 years ago.

“It was us, it was where we are now, it was this great mirror to reflect back on,” he said, drawing parallels between the profligate, pre-crash 1920s and the run-up to the 2008 global financial crisis.

DiCaprio remembered studying “Gatsby” in school and being “entertained by it, fascinated by Gatsby, but not by any stretch of the imagination grasping the profound existential power that Fitzgerald had in writing this book.”

When Luhrmann handed him a first-edition copy, the novel “took on a whole new meaning for me,” he said. DiCaprio realized that Gatsby was someone who was “trying to become a great Rockefeller, a great American, and somewhere along the way had lost the sense of who he was.”

Fitzgerald’s Lover

Carey Mulligan, looking very 1920s in her black cocktail dress and diamond-stud earrings, said Luhrmann gave her six books on Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda to help her prepare the Daisy role. She also read letters written to Fitzgerald by a lover of his and realized how closely her words resembled Daisy’s.

Moments after the “Gatsby” team departed, the festival’s nine jury members crowded the podium, led by their president Steven Spielberg, who was wearing a cream linen suit.

Asked why he hadn’t led a jury since 1974, Spielberg -- who, with the other panelists, has 20 movies to judge -- said he had been busy shooting when asked.

“The entire world comes together once a year at Cannes, and I think it’s an extraordinary global cultural event,” he said of the competition for the Palme d’Or. “I look at this as two weeks of celebrating film, not two weeks of pitting one film against the other.”

Jury member Nicole Kidman, in a low-cut black dress, said that when she found out Spielberg was steering the jury, she was eager to join in.

“I’ve known Steven a long time,” said Kidman, “but I’ve never got to spend two whole weeks with him.”

(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The views expressed are her own.)

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