THE BIG READ: Wheels of controversy are already grinding
The Seven Seas, an 86m yacht with glistening blond wooden decks and a hull of midnight blue, left Fort Lauderdale, Florida, just over a month ago to begin its 6400km voyage to the French Riviera.
For the next fortnight or so, the vessel will serve as accommodation for its owner, Steven Spielberg, as he performs his duties as jury president at the 66th Cannes Film Festival, which starts on Wednesday.
Earlier this week I heard a rumour, entirely unfounded, that the director and his fellow jurors would be watching the 20 films in competition not at the city's bustling Palais des Festivals but in the comfort of the Seven Seas' open-air infinity pool, which has a state-of-the-art 4.5m cinema screen.
If the image of Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, Lynne Ramsay, Christoph Waltz and the rest of the panel bobbing around in their trunks and bikinis while the latest arthouse offering from Mexico or Chad unfurls above their heads seems faintly absurd - well, that's Cannes for you: fountainhead of gossip, wellspring of the preposterous and home to the most vibrant and passionate film festival on earth. This year the wheels of controversy have begun to grind even earlier than usual thanks to the festival's decision to open with Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. By the time of Wednesday night's gala premiere, Luhrmann's 3D adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's novel will have been playing for the best part of a week in America, where it has been met with decidedly mixed reviews.
Cannes has a proud tradition of kicking off with a dud: in 2006, the industry's great and good dutifully filed into the Palais for the world's first screening of The Da Vinci Code. But Gatsby's premature bow in the US leaves you wondering whether the festival retains its international clout.
Until, that is, you delve into the schedule and start goggling at the riches within. This year's competition line-up is a fiendishly well-curated selection of films, from hotly awaited potential crowd-pleasers to diligently foraged-for truffles of world cinema.
The muskiest of the lot might prove to be Behind the Candelabra, Steven Soderbegh's biopic of Liberace, which stars Michael Douglas as the gay Las Vegas pianist and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson, his biddable young lover.
Also looking promising are Only God Forgives, a seamy Bangkok crime thriller directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling, and The Immigrant, James Gray's lavish 1920s drama about a Polish woman (Marion Cotillard), who throws down roots in Manhattan's fecund underworld.
New York takes another starring role in Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llweyn Davis, a drama set in the city's thriving folk music scene in the 1960s.
The competition films are all in contention for the Palme d'Or, the festival's highest honour, and Spielberg, who is not universally admired by French filmmakers, might be tempted to choose a slightly left-field winner to underline his aesthete's credentials.
Accordingly, I've placed a couple of early bets: on The Past, the new film from Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi, and Like Father, Like Son, by Japan's Hirokazu Koreeda.
Away from the competition there are further pleasures to be had in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, which acts as a showcase for films that offer, as the banner suggests, a particular outlook in terms of style and story. The opening film here is The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola's comic drama based on an extraordinary spate of recent Hollywood burglaries in which Californian teenagers ransacked celebrities' homes for jewellery and haute couture. Emma Watson stars, not as victim but as perpetrator.
The strand will also play host to The Bastards, a harrowing-sounding drama from Claire Denis, and As I Lay Dying, an adaptation of the William Faulkner novel written by, directed and starring the perennially busy James Franco.
The Selfish Giant , the second feature by Clio Barnard, is playing in Directors' Fortnight, and transposes the Oscar Wilde fairy tale to the present-day Yorkshire scrap metal business.
For Those in Peril, the debut feature of the young Scottish film-maker Paul Wright, will screen as part of Critics' Week. It tells the story of a misfit in a remote Scottish fishing village coming to terms with his elder brother's death at sea.
Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight, an HBO drama by Stephen Frears that examines the boxer's status as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, will screen out of competition.
At the Cinéma de la Plage, restored prints of favourite films by Hitchcock, Keaton and Tati will be screened on the beach.
The water might be warm in the Seven Seas' infinity pool, and Spielberg's crew can no doubt mix a mean sundowner, but when Jour de Fête starts to unspool even the promise of a dip with Nicole Kidman couldn't shift me from my deckchair. - ©The Daily Telegraph