Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood hits Cannes to red-carpet circus

Los Angeles-set thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt the festival’s hot ticket, with Tarantino imploring audience members not to reveal the plot

Twenty five years to the day that Pulp Fiction debuted at the Cannes film festival, Quentin Tarantino returned to the French Riviera with for his much-anticipated film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

A 60s-set drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a floundering western star and Brad Pitt as his long-suffering stuntman, the film premiered to applause, boos and the attention of the film world on Tuesday evening.

Tarantino’s 10th and reportedly final film before retirement is unquestionably the hot ticket at this year’s festival. Ahead of its early evening premiere, the Croisette was filled with people hoping for a last-minute ticket, many of whom had scraps of card scrawled with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood s’il vous plait”.

Details about the film, meanwhile, have been kept tightly under wraps, with its trailer light on salient information, and Tarantino sharing a notice on social media imploring critics not to reveal too much about it before its release. The same message was relayed by a Cannes representative before a press screening, prompting boos from the audience, although there was applause and some cheers in response to the film itself. The response was more enthusiastic at the red carpet premiere, where Tarantino revived a seven minute standing ovation, according to Deadline.

The circus around Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is perhaps understandable. Its cast list alone guarantees it column inches, with DiCaprio and Pitt – both of whom were on the red carpet for the film’s premiere – starring alongside each other in a movie for the first time.

Then there is its premise, with its signature Tarantino mix of prestige and pulp. Described by producers Sony Pictures as “a tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age”, it attracted criticism for its focus on Sharon Tate (played in the film by Margot Robbie), the actor and wife of Roman Polanski, who was killed by followers of Charles Manson in 1969.

Finally, there is the presence of Tarantino himself, back at the festival that has done more than any other to burnish his reputation as one of film-making’s most recognisable, not to mention controversial figures.

On his debut at Cannes, with Pulp Fiction in 1994, the director immediately claimed the spotlight, receiving the coveted Palme d’Or from a jury led by Clint Eastwood, but in the process receiving boos from audience members, who felt that Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours: Red was the more deserving prize. He returned to Cannes a decade later as jury president, and then in 2009 with his second world war black Comedy Inglourious Basterds, a film that received a long standing ovation at its premiere, but a markedly less enthusiastic reception from reviewers.

Tarantino’s latest effort nearly didn’t make it to the festival at all. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did not appear in the Cannes official selection announcement, with Cannes director Thierry Frémaux declaring that it wasn’t yet ready. However, after some last-minute editing by its director, the film was added to the lineup several days later.

The arrival of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be cheering to Cannes organisers, who have lost out on big-name titles in recent years to the Toronto and Venice film festivals. However, Tarantino’s presence has not been universally well-received at a time when Cannes is attempting to present itself as more welcoming to women.

Comments the film-maker made in 2003 about the sexual abuse allegations around Roman Polanski have resurfaced in the wake of the #MeToo movement, while he was also forced to apologise for his mistreatment of Uma Thurman on the set of Kill Bill. Actors including Busy Phillips and Jessica Chastain have also criticised the sexual violence found in many of Tarantino’s films.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is that it maintains many of the director’s longstanding preoccupations: stylised violence, genre elements, rat-a-tat dialogue and a period soundtrack.

Early critical response to the film seems to be cautiously positive. In a five star review, the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw said that it was “outrageous, disorientating, irresponsible, and also brilliant”. The Irish Times’ critic Donald Clark described the film as “absurdly baggy”, but nevertheless thought that the film was “a significant improvement on [Tarantino’s previous film] the Hateful Eight”.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is released in US cinemas on 26 July, with a UK release following on 14 August.


Gwilym Mumford

The GuardianTramp

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