Sun shines on Cannes opening but not on 'Grace of Monaco'

CANNES, France - The allure of superstar Nicole Kidman was not enough to salvage "Grace of Monaco" from the scathing wrath of critics Wednesday, just hours before the movie opens the Cannes Film Festival in a star-studded world premiere.

Kidman, "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron and Chiara Mastroianni are just some of the big names due to walk up the red carpet under what promises to be a clear, sunny sky as the 12-day film fest officially gets going in the glamorous Riviera resort.

Ryan Gosling, David Cronenberg, Sophia Loren and jury head Jane Campion are also set to make an appearance during the 67th Cannes Film Festival, where directorial big guns will go head-to-head in a year of comebacks, swansongs and star debuts.

But for filmmakers behind the opening movie, the festivities promise to be bittersweet as the Monaco princely family furiously disavowed a film they say bears no resemblance to reality and critics who got a sneak preview made no secret of their contempt.

"The cringe-factor is ionospherically high," The Guardian film maestro Peter Bradshaw wrote.

"A fleet of ambulances may have to be stationed outside the Palais to take tuxed audiences to hospital afterwards to have their toes uncurled under general anaesthetic."

Rather than illustrate her life as whole, the movie focuses on a period of high tensions between the tiny state on a rock and France in 1962 that prompted the princess to turn down an offer by Alfred Hitchcock to return to her beloved acting.

Kidman portrays an unhappy Grace who sleeps in a separate bedroom to Prince Rainier, even contemplating divorce before rising up to the challenge of being a princess and helping her lost husband solve the political crisis with France.

Princely frown, transatlantic row

Grace's children Prince Albert II and his sisters Caroline and Stephanie have publicly disavowed a film they say "has been misappropriated for purely commercial purposes".

"This film should never have existed," Stephanie of Monaco told local daily Nice Matin.

Describing the controversy as "awkward" in a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Kidman sought to reassure the family that the film bore no "malice" towards them or towards Grace and Rainier, played by a chain-smoking Tim Roth.

"It's fictionalised, it's not a biopic," she said, echoing what the film's French director Olivier Dahan has previously stated.

Jeffrey Robinson, the author of a biography on Grace who met her and read the script, has a different opinion of a film he savaged in an interview with Nice Matin.

"The authors of the screenplay don't know anything, did not capture her personality, did not meet her at the time. It's shameful and they're not honouring her," he said. As if this was not enough, Dahan had been locked in a long-standing tussle with US distributor Harvey Weinstein over the final version of the film. Weinstein had reportedly considered dropping the rights to the film altogether, but Dahan said Wednesday an agreement had been reached under which the movie mogul will distribute the French director's version in the United States.

"There is no dispute anymore, everything has been resolved. We're working together, and I'm happy about it," Dahan told reporters.

According to entertainment industry magazine Variety, Weinstein will acquire the rights for considerably less money than he had originally planned to pay.

No limo, but a tank

The glitzy Cannes opening is due to kick off at 1915 (1715 GMT) with a ceremony hosted by French actor Lambert Wilson, after which 18 films will compete for the coveted Palme d'Or prize during the May 14-25 extravaganza.

The festival will see Canadian heartthrob Gosling showcase his directorial debut "Lost River", and films by 25-year-old whizz kid Xavier Dolan, veteran director Jean-Luc Godard and "Men in Black" actor Tommy Lee Jones will also compete.

On the sidelines of the competitions, muscle men Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger will take a trip to the resort on board a tank to promote their film "The Expendables 3".

Abel Ferrara's racy "Welcome to New York" in which Gerard Depardieu plays a character much like the disgraced former head of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn will also get a private industry preview during the festival.

And to seal off this year's festivities, US Cannes-lover Quentin Tarantino will showcase "A Fistful of Dollars" at the closing ceremony, in a glitzy celebration of the 50th anniversary of spaghetti westerns.