CANNES, France (Reuters) - The Cannes film festival gets underway on Wednesday with Australian director Baz Luhrmann's 3D extravaganza "The Great Gatsby", a lavish production eclipsing more modest launches in recent years that reflected global economic gloom.
Already showing in theatres in Canada and the United States, the adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel is a rare case when Cannes, the year's most important cinema gathering, has not kicked off with a world premiere.
After the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio screened to the press, and ahead of a glitzy red carpet evening gala, Luhrmann appeared unmoved by those critics who had said the film was a case of style over substance.
"I never get one of those big, high critics scores," Luhrmann told a news conference, flanked by cast members including Tobey Maguire and Amitabh Bachchan.
"I just care people are going out and seeing it."
The movie, estimated to have cost $105 million to make, received mixed reviews, but opened in North America last weekend with a larger-than-expected $51 million for distributor Warner Bros, a unit of Time Warner Inc..
The opening night kicks off 12 days of world premieres, champagne parties and celebrity spotting along Cannes' chic waterfront Croisette, with Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Watson among big names in town this year.
In Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby", DiCaprio plays the title role Jay Gatsby, a millionaire pining for a lost love during the height of the "Roaring Twenties", while Maguire is narrator Nick Carraway. Rapper Jay-Z produced the soundtrack.
DiCaprio, remaining calm despite the crush of reporters and photographers following his every move, said he was fascinated by the character of Gatsby.
"One of the most powerful things about this novel is that it is still discussed nearly 90 years later," he said.
Cloudy skies did not deter badge holders and passers-by from cramming cafes around the main festival building, while dozens of gleaming luxury yachts in the nearby harbor prepared to welcome their wealthy guests.
CELEBRATION OVER COMPETITION
With the film's feast of lavish costumes and hedonistic parties, festival veterans are eager to see if Luhrmann will top his last opening at Cannes in 2001, viewed as the last truly over-the-top launch party.
In that year he filled the red carpet with can-can girls to promote his movie "Moulin Rouge".
"For a few years the mood at Cannes was a bit more subdued but the economy has picked up a bit and business is good so people are expecting a big opening," said Wendy Mitchell, editor of trade magazine Screen International.
Some industry insiders said Cannes' decision to invite Luhrmann to open was a concession indicative of the cozy ties between Tinseltown and the French festival that champions eclectic, low-budget movies while also courting Hollywood.
After the opening night the focus will shift to hundreds of other films screening at Cannes, including 20 movies from 10 countries competing for the coveted Palme D'Or award presented on the final day, May 26.
The list, which regularly features Oscar contenders come the awards season, includes five U.S. movies - the highest number in six years - from directors Steven Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, Alexander Payne, the Coen brothers, and James Gray.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg is heading a star-studded jury to decide the prizes along with Australian actress Nicole Kidman and two of 2013's Oscar winners, Taiwan-born director Ang Lee and Austrian actor Christoph Waltz.
"I look at this as two weeks of celebrating film, not two weeks of pitting one film against the other," Spielberg told a news conference.
(Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage, Editing by Mike Collett-White)