Several thousand miles away from the South of France, the Seattle International Film Festival opened this week with Joss Whedon's version of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." But on the Croisette, the motto might as well be "Much Ado About Everything."
The opening night film was Baz Luhrmann's ultra-extravagant "The Great Gatsby," about a wealthy pretender who throws ridiculously lavish parties … and it was followed by yep, a ridiculously lavish party.
The Un Certain Regard sidebar, typically the province of small art movies, opened with another Hollywood movie about extravagance, Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring" … and attracted no less than Paris Hilton to its own afterparty.
Headlines talked about how $1.4 million in Chopard jewelry earmarked for the stars was stolen from a Cannes hotel room on Thursday night … but Chopard quickly said that amount was inflated and none of it was going to celebs, and the latest reports suggest that the theft happened before the festival even started.
Reports flew about gunshots that were fired near a television broadcast by the beach, and a man wielding a hand grenade … but the grenade was fake, the shots were blanks, the gun was a starter's pistol, and the man was quickly taken into custody.
The lineup of 20 competition films was widely touted as one of the strongest and deepest ever … but after three days, only one of the films that has screened so far is considered a real candidate for the Palme d'Or.
So yes, Cannes trafficks in excess and exaggeration – and as the New York Times reminded us on Friday, the grandest festival premieres take place "just above the Marché, the international film market, in the basement, where distributors sell the rights to … B-movie action sequels like 'Outpost III: Rise of the Spetsnaz' — whatever that is and wherever it's rising from."
When it comes to competition films, the power player so far is clearly Asghar Farhadi with "The Past," which brought juror Nicole Kidman to tears at a Friday screening and is clearly the Palme d'Or leader in the clubhouse.
(Question: Since she's a member of Steven Spielberg's jury and will eventually be picking the winners, should Kidman really have shown up to help introduce the Weinstein Company's presentation of its 2013 releases, which include two Cannes competition titles? Or is the very idea of a Cannes ethics code silly?)
Farhadi and his cast spoke to the press after the first screening of their film, and the director admitted that he is a complete perfectionist on the set. One scene between star Berenice Bejo (with Farhadi, right) and the young actress Pauline Burlet, who won raves for her performance as Bejo's daughter, took "five or six hours" to shoot, even though its action was relatively minimal.
"He wanted it a certain way," said Bejo. "The hair, the expression, the light … He got angry."
Joked Farhadi, "I finally got what I wanted, so I'm happy with it."
See photos: The Scene at Cannes Film Festival 2013 (Photos)
For years, critic Roger Ebert would have been a fixture in Cannes press circles – and on the heels of his death in April, his RogerEbert.com website has a crew of covering the festival, led by Ebert's wife of more than two decades, Chaz.
"It's emotional to be here, but it's very comforting," Chaz Ebert told USA Today. "It feels like this is exactly where I should be at this time. He was the one that encouraged – almost forced – me to come here."
One of the contributors to the Ebert website, Michal Oleszczyk, went well off the beaten track on Friday. First he checked out the Un Certain Regard entry "Stranger by the Lake," from director Alain Guiraudie, and was shocked to find the gay erotic thriller was, in his estimation, "the best movie of the festival so far … by turns sweet, sexy and suspenseful."
Then he went into the Cannes Classics sidebar for Mark Cousins' documentary "A Story of Children and Film," which explores how kids have been used through film history and is, he said, "as self-indulgent as it is brilliant."
Most of the attention will move squarely back to the main competition titles on Saturday. Arnaud Desplechin's highly-touted "Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian"), starring Benicio del Toro as a Native American veteran of World War II, screens first, followed by Kore-Eda Hirokazu's "Like Father, Like Son," the sight-unseen co-favorite in current Palme d'Or odds.
And the weekend will also bring the first screenings of the Coen brothers' film about the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s, "Inside Llewyn Davis," the year's first competition title from a former Palme winner (followed by Steven Soderbergh and Roman Polanski movies next week).
If nothing else, those films ought to be worth much ado.