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Cannes Film Festival kicks off with Nicole Kidman in Grace Kelly biopic 'Grace of Monaco'

CANNES, France - The Grace Kelly melodrama "Grace of Monaco" kicked off the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday with classic French Riviera glamour, behind-the-scenes controversy and emphatic boos from critics.

The film, starring Nicole Kidman as Kelly during her marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco (Tim Roth), gave Cannes some local Cote d'Azur colour and star wattage for a flashy opening. But it also started the 11-day festival on an unusually tumultuous note.

"Grace of Monaco" has for months been embroiled in a feud over the final edit with North American distributor the Weinstein Co. It has also been criticized by the Monaco royal family as inaccurate. (The film, which chronicles Kelly's retirement from Hollywood and adjustment to life as a European princess, is a labeled as a "fictional account inspired by real events.")

But director Olivier Dahan ("La Vie en Rose") and Weinstein Co. co-chairman Harvey Weinstein swept their differences under the red carpet Wednesday. After twice postponing its U.S. release, the Weinstein Co. will distribute Dahan's version, albeit for a lesser fee.

"There is only one version of the film," Dahan said, adding that any changes would be made mutually. "There is no longer any dispute. We work well together."

Yet "Grace of Monaco" was met with some of the worst reviews for a Cannes opener after screening for the press early Wednesday. The Hollywood Reporter called the film "a stiff, stagey, thunderingly earnest affair which has generated far more drama off screen than on."

Reports had questioned whether Weinstein would spurn the premiere, causing him to issue a statement Wednesday saying he was travelling on a long-planned trip. He wished Dahan and the cast "all the best" for the screening.

Kidman was clearly excited by the part — playing a great actress she admires and is arguably her equal in stature. But Kidman said the refusal by Princess Stephanie of Monaco to see the film about her parents was "awkward."

"I feel sad because I think the film has no malice toward the family," said Kidman. "You take dramatic license at times, but I understand also because it's their mother and father."

The festival jury, which decides the prestigious Palme d'Or award, led by Jane Campion, was also introduced Wednesday. As the only female filmmaker to win the Palme (for "The Piano" in 1993), Campion faced questions that have often surrounded Cannes about the inclusion of women directors.

"I think you'd have to say there's inherent sexism in the industry," Campion said.

Of the some 1,800 films submitted to Festival Director Thierry Fremaux, Campion said only 7 per cent were directed by women, though 20 per cent are represented in the program.

"But nevertheless, it does feel very undemocratic," said Campion, who added that movies are losing out on a feminine perspective.

Last year, the Palme went to the erotic French coming-of-age tale "Blue Is the Warmest Color." In a first, Steven Spielberg's jury awarded the Palme not just to the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, but also to its two stars, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux.

This year brings a selection of 18 films somewhat light on Hollywood, but heavy on world-class auteurs, including Jean-Luc Godard, Ken Loach, the Dardenne brothers, Mike Leigh and Michel Hazanavicius, returning to where his "The Artist" became a sensation.

Two films come from Americans: the Olympic wrestler drama "Foxcatcher," by Bennett Miller ("Capote"), starring Channing Tatum and Steve Carell; and the western "The Homesman," the second directing effort from Tommy Lee Jones.

Canadian filmmakers outnumber their North American neighbours: David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars," Atom Egoyan's "The Captives" and Xavier Dolan's "Mommy."

Though "Grace of Monaco" isn't eligible for the Palme, Kidman (a jury member last year) said she would have picked it.

"What would I give this movie?" said Kidman, smiling. "Come on. The Palme d'Or!"

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Associated Press reporter Thomas Adamson contributed to this report.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle

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