Thursday, May 15, 2014

Nicole Kidman returns to Cannes, playing another Festival icon

J. Sperling Reich reports from Cannes on Nicole Kidman's press conference for her festival opener, Grace of Monaco.

The list of personalities inextricably linked to the Cannes Film Festival during the course of its 67-year history is filled with many of the movie industry's most legendary figures. Filmmakers such as Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and François Truffaut are or were favorites of the festival, regularly premiering their films here. The same is true of actors and actresses like Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Robert De Niro, Sophia Loren, Jack Nicholson and Elizabeth Taylor.

Nicole Kidman is without a doubt the most current example of Cannes royalty. She has visited the festival at least eight times over the last 20 years, including participating in last year's jury presided over by director Steven Spielberg. In 2001, several months after her divorce from actor Tom Cruise was announced, Kidman was forced to speak with the press for the first time during an eagerly anticipated press conference to promote the opening night film, Moulin Rouge. It is a moment still discussed by Cannes veterans to this day.

"Obviously, this would not be my choice," Kidman replied at the time when asked how she felt about having to finally confront the media. "If it was under different circumstances, I would not want to sit in front of everybody and have questions about my personal life. So thank you for not asking one."
So it is rather fitting that Kidman is back in Cannes this year to promote the opening-night movie Grace of Monaco, a drama directed by French filmmaker Olivier Dahan about another beloved Cannes actress, Grace Kelly, depicting her transition from Hollywood actress to an actual European princess.

Kelly herself had many ties to Cannes. In 1955, she made her first appearance at the festival in The Country Girl, for which she would go on to win an Oscar. That was also the year she shot Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant, a film set partly in Cannes and along the Côte d’Azur. While at the festival, Kelly would meet Prince Rainier III of Monaco, who she would marry the following year in a wedding watched by 30 million people around the world.

The many similarities between Kelly and Kidman are not lost on the actress herself, as she explained during a press conference for Grace of Monaco. "She was a major American movie star. At a very early age she won an Academy Award and she then said I'm actually going to leave it all because I want a marriage, I want a family," Kidman recalled. "There are so many layers to this when an actress is playing an actress and I have similarities in my life to some of the things that happen to Grace. I obviously did not marry a prince."

Upon hearing the laughter and gasps from the 400-odd journalists in attendance, all responding to what she had just said, Kidman laughed and added, "Well, I am married to a prince. A country prince." A reference to her husband, country singer Keith Urban.

And much like the princess she portrays on screen did in real life, Kidman says she would absolutely give up acting for love and family. "I wouldn't even think twice about it," she proclaimed. "I think love is the core emotion and I've certainly existed without that in my life. It's a very empty life. When I won the Oscar, I went home and I didn't have that [love] in my life. That was the most intensely lonely period of my life. Strangely for me, the greatest highs have coincided with the greatest lows. During my professional highs a lot of times I've had personal lows and they've kind of collided and that's always aggravated me that it's gone that way. I'm hoping one day I can have professional high and a personal high. I don't know whether that's ever possible."

For Kidman and Dahan, the first day of the festival provided the exact kind of contrary emotions the actress alludes to. Before headlining the opening-night gala in Cannes, Grace of Monaco went through eight months of turmoil behind the scenes, starting last September when one of the film's distributors, The Weinstein Company, pushed back the release date into 2014. There were rumors that the head of the company, Harvey Weinstein, was not pleased with Dahan's cut of the film and wanted to make changes. This was all but confirmed this past January when Weinstein delayed the release indefinitely. However, the very next day he was blindsided when Cannes selected Grace of Monaco to open the fest.

Distribution plans for the film, at least in the United States, remained up in the air until just before Grace of Monaco debuted at the Palais des Festival on Wednesday evening. Yash Raj Films, the India-based company that financed the production, came to an agreement with The Weinstein Company which reportedly lowered the price of the film for the U.S. from its original $5 million.

Dahan, who had previously bashed Weinstein publicly, tried to dispel any such discord, though he wound up contradicting himself. "There's only one version of the film," said the filmmaker. "Harvey will use that version. If some changes need to be made, we'll do them together. There's no longer any dispute. Everything has been totally resolved. We work well together and I'm very pleased with the current situation."

While Dahan may have been pleased to secure a U.S. release for Grace of Monaco, he could not be happy about some (read: all) of the poor reviews that appeared shortly after the film screened earlier in the day. As if that weren't bad enough, Monaco's royal family, specifically Prince Albert II, has criticized the film for being "historically inaccurate" and complete "fiction.” Needless to say, like Weinstein, they were absent from Wednesday evening's red carpet festivities.

Kidman said she was saddened to hear the royal family was boycotting Grace of Monaco. "The film has no malice towards the family or particularly towards Grace or Rainier," she explained. "It's fictionalized, obviously, it's not a biopic. There's the essence of truth, but as with a lot of these things you take dramatic license at times. I understand the protection of the privacy of their mother and father. I still have respect and I want them to know the performance was done with love and that ultimately if they ever did see it, they would see that there was an enormous amount of affection for both their parents and the love story of their parents."

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