Entertainment & Arts

Great Gatsby kicks off Cannes Film Festival

Media captionThe cast of The Great Gatsby were joined on the red carpet by some energetic flapper dancers

Leonardo DiCaprio and director Baz Luhrmann have appeared on the red carpet in Cannes as their new film The Great Gatsby opens the annual film festival.

The movie, based on F Scott Fitzgerald's novel, also stars British actress Carey Mulligan. Early reviews have been mixed though DiCaprio has been praised in the central role as bootlegger Jay Gatsby.

The 20 films in competition include movies by the Coen brothers and Roman Polanski.

DiCaprio - who worked with Luhrmann in his 1996 adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - said that he read the book "in junior high school" but admitted "it didn't quite connect with me".

He said his recent reading of a first edition of the novel "just blew me away - it had so many meanings and nuances".

Image caption Tobey Maguire (left) also appears in Baz Luhrmann's F Scott Fitzgerald adaptation

"I remembered it being a very traditional love story of this man that was obsessed with this woman named Daisy," he told BBC News.

"But it's such an existential novel in a lot of ways. This guy is an eternal dreamer. He is a manifestation of his own dreams."

DiCaprio said taking the lead role brought an "enormous pressure".

"What is so great about this novel and why people still discuss it nearly a hundred years later and still have arguments about the meaning of each sentence and each word and each bit of symbolism, is because it's left up to the interpretation of you as a reader.

"In a way it's a recipe for disaster because so many people are going to say 'that's not how I felt Daisy should be or how Gatsby should be'.

"I just looked at it as an incredible character to take on, something that was subtle in its approach but had so much depth and meaning in every single line," he said.

Of the uneven reviews coming from US critics, he added: "All you can do is try your best.

"You go to make these films, you're off on location for months and months at a time, and all you can do is try your best. I know we did that for this film.

"Ultimately whether people embrace it or tear it apart is beyond anyone's control. All you can do is dedicate yourself to making a great piece of art and that's what we ultimately did."

Media captionLeonardo DiCaprio describes his relationship to The Great Gatsby

Luhrmann told the BBC: "When Fitzgerald died, his book was horribly criticised. He had very mixed reviews. Some extremely cruel. Some of the grand critics called him a clown.

"When he died, he was buying copies of his own book just so some sales would register. Fitzgerald had to suffer much crueller and more ill-informed criticisms than I have. He tried to write the great American novel. I wish he knew that he did."

The Australian director added: "The other night we had a premiere and completely out of the blue a woman came out of the audience. She was quite old and frail. She held me by the hand and said, 'I've come to see what you did with my grandfather's book.' And of course I went cold, because I didn't know it was Fitzgerald's granddaughter.

"She said, 'All his life he's been maligned because you can't transfer first person narrative into film and in my opinion you have done it, and he would be very proud'."

Festival debut

No British films have been selected in the official competition though several debut filmmakers are being featured in other festival strands, such as the Cinefondation, which selects pieces made by film students from across the world.

UK director Paul Wright also makes his festival debut with For Those in Peril, a drama set in a remote Scottish village. It will be screened as part of Critics' Week.

Image caption Director Steven Spielberg leads the jury, which also includes actress Nicole Kidman

This year's jury, which decides the Palme d'Or - the festival's top prize - is being headed by US director Steven Spielberg and includes Nicole Kidman and Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz.

Other films in competition include Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra; Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives, starring Ryan Gosling; Sideways director Alexander Payne's latest film Nebraska; and Jim Jarmusch's vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive, starring British actress Tilda Swinton.

The 2012 winner, Amour, directed by Michael Haneke, went on to win the Oscar for best foreign language film.

Last year's event saw more than 4,600 films exhibited over 10 days, with a huge rise in films from Asia.

China is now the second biggest film market in the world, following the US and recently co-produced the year's biggest hit film Iron Man 3.

Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Ryan Gosling and Alain Delon are among the stars expected in the French resort for the festival which ends on 26 May.