CANNES France (Reuters) - The glamour of Cannes and nearby Monaco are wedded on screen in "Grace of Monaco" that opens the 67th Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night, but critics at an advance press screening saw no marriage made in heaven.
The film starring Nicole Kidman as the American actress Grace Kelly who married Prince Rainier to become Princess Grace was made by French director Olivier Dahan, one of whose previous movies, about singer Edith Piaf, was a worldwide hit.
His latest film stirred a dispute with producer Harvey Weinstein, who owns the American distribution rights, over the final cut that under French law belongs to the director.
It was announced at Cannes that the spat had been resolved, but the movie still drew some immediate savaging from critics.
"The film made headlines due to conflicts between the director and Harvey Weinstein, but for once, we’d be tempted to side with 'Harvey Scissorhands', because it’s hard to see how his edit of the film could be any worse than this one," the Indywire blog said in a scathing review.
"It's a fairly conventional biopic," said Adrian Prechtel of the Munich newspaper "Abendzeitung".
The film, partly shot in Monaco before its royal family fell out with Dahan and then condemned it, features Kidman playing a princess frustrated by her inability to fit in with residents of the tiny principality and her limited role as a monarch's wife.
She drives her Porsche at breakneck speed on Monaco's steep and twisty roads to vent her frustrations and is visibly bored by the big parties her husband's friend Aristotle Onassis (Robert Lindsay), who is shown with his then-wife the opera singer Maria Callas (Paz Vega), holds aboard his enormous yacht.
Kelly eventually had a car crash on those roads in 1982, after suffering a stroke while driving, so that part rings true.
But Dahan and Kidman acknowledged at a press conference that other salient details, like then-French President Charles de Gaulle visiting Monaco during a crisis between France and its protectorate, and Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock going there to lure Kelly back to Hollywood, were fictionalized.
Kelly and the late Rainier's children, Monaco's Prince Albert and his two sisters Caroline and Stephanie, have called the film a "farce" with no basis in reality - a public critique which Kidman said made her "sad."
"The film has no malice towards the family, nor to Grace nor Rainier. It's fictionalized, it's not a biopic... you take dramatic license at times," Kidman said.
"The performance was done with love," she said, expressing regret that the royal family would not attend the premiere.
Dahan said he had staged Hitchcock and de Gaulle visiting Monaco because they were essential images for the film.
"Politics are not paramount in the film, they are in the background to enhance the portrait of the characters, the portrait of Grace," he said.
"I wanted to show that her choice was not that solely of an actress but of a person who has a husband involved in politics, with children, so in fact the film talks about the choice of a woman, and I hope that the film is quite universal, far more universal than just a biopic," he said.
"Grace of Monaco" was to open the festival in the evening and fans were waiting outside security cordons to secure places for the best star-watching, and the festival's famous red carpet was awaiting its moment in the spotlight.
Eighteen films from directors as far away as Mauritania and Japan are in competition for the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize, to be handed out on May 24 along with other awards.
The festival along the palm-lined Cote d'Azur is a huge draw for the industry and public alike. About 127,000 visitors were expected, plus 30,000 accredited professionals, 4,000 journalists and 700 technicians, according to a periodical distributed by the festival.
With huge yachts bobbing offshore in the Mediterranean and luxury boutiques along the famous La Croisette boulevard awaiting well-heeled clientele, the 12-day pageant is the international film world's answer to Hollywood's Oscars.
CAMPION HEADS PRIZE JURY
Presiding over the festival is a nine-member jury headed by New Zealand director Jane Campion, the only woman ever to win the Palme d'Or - for 1993's "The Piano".
"I think the selection has so many talents now that it's like (being) a kid in a candy store," Danish director and jury member Nicolas Winding Refn said as he arrived on Tuesday.
Waiting just opposite the red carpet-lined steps leading into the festival's main theater, movie fan Jean-Marc Stahl said he and his friends met at Cannes and now vacation together in the seaside resort each year to coincide with the festival.
"Some of us have been coming for more than 20 years," Stahl said. "We created a network and we meet every year."
(Additional reporting by Hortense de Roffingnac; Editing by Mark Heinrich)