Standing at the top of the Palais stairs at Cannes, flanked by Once Upon a Time in Hollywood stars Margot Robbie and Leonardo DiCaprio, Quentin Tarantino looked a happy man.
After whispering into Robbie’s ear, he gazed at the A-list crowd milling below and yelled, “Vive le cinema!”
Long live cinema, indeed. Storied director Tarantino, 59, wowed Cannes 25 years ago with Palme D’Or winner Pulp Fiction but has since struggled to gain the same critical and popular love for other movies apart from 2009’s Inglourious Basterds.
Until now. In a fairytale twist for Tarantino, Cannes’ industry-heavy audience reportedly gave Once Upon a Time in Hollywood a six-minute standing ovation at its May 21 world premiere.
He’s relevant again.
The homage to 1969-era Hollywood – starring Robbie, DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell and Australia’s Damon Herriman – also drew superlatives from critics.
The New York Times wrote the film was “moving … a love letter — and a dream — of the Hollywood that was.”
Comparing the vibe to Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, the UK Guardian awarded “dazzlingly shot” Once Upon a Time in Hollywood awarded five stars.
A highlight? Tarantino’s “startling and spectacularly provocative ending.”
The Telegraph also gave the movie five stars, calling Tarantino’s ninth big screen work “non-stop extraordinary”.
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is so gloriously, wickedly indulgent, compelling and hilarious. The film QT was born to make. The world is a more colourful place in Quentin Tarantino’s twilight zone. Round two, please. #Cannes2019
— Joe Utichi (@joeutichi) May 21, 2019
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is more languorous and luminous than anything Tarantino has done before. Radiant w/ affection for Los Angeles and the movies. Ambles and drags but pleasantly so. Pitt & DiCaprio are fabulous, Pitt especially. I could watch them drive around LA a lot.
— Jake Coyle (@jakecoyleAP) May 21, 2019
There will be many, many hot takes to come on the new Tarantino but I don’t mind letting mine cool off on the counter a little longer. I know it’s more relaxed than I was expecting, and that DiCaprio is terrific, funny and poignant. The rest, I’m gonna mull over. #Cannes2019
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) May 21, 2019
Critics honed in on the performances of DiCaprio, who plays TV star Rick Dalton, and Pitt, as his best buddy and sometime stunt double Cliff Booth, as the film’s backbone.
The “immediately iconic” teaming of DiCaprio and Pitt “is simply magnificent,” said Slash Film’s Jason Gorber.
“Given this meaty dialogue, terrific character beats, and the swagger of the setting, they’re at the tops of the game.”
But not everyone was a fan.
IndieWire‘s Eric Kohn dissed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as lacking in plot, lopsided and a “cultural mishmash” and The Wrap called it “ridiculous” and – at 160 minutes – “too long.”
To Vanity Fair, “What Tarantino really seems to want to do with the film is just talk about old stuff he likes.”
At Cannes, the movie was the hottest ticket in town, with dozens turned away from the premiere because it was oversubscribed.
Journalists were warned not to reveal spoilers but Variety said Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is “a panoramic look at the movie business at the end of the 1960s.”
The movie site sounded a cautionary note, saying “it’s unclear how commercial” the movie’s “meditation” on fleeting talent and out-of-date actors will be.
The Vietnam-era plot includes real-life characters including doomed actress Sharon Tate (Robbie) and Charles Manson (Herriman) and his murderous ‘family’.
Robbie – in Chanel lace cigarette pants and babydoll top at the premiere – has been drip-feeding social media followers glimpses as Tate. On May 22 she posted the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood trailer, leading fans to instantly predict an Oscar nomination.
The movie features cameos from Timothy Olyphant, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damian Lewis, Rumer Willis, Tim Roth and Lena Dunham.
Poignantly, the trailer shows Luke Perry in his last movie role. The former Beverly Hills 90210 star died at age 52 on March 4 after a massive stroke.
DiCaprio told Esquire he had a “butterfly moment” on the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood set when he walked in and saw his co-star: “Oh my God, that’s Luke Perry over there!”
Pitt added that Perry was “that icon of coolness for us” during 90210’s heyday: “It was this strange burst of excitement that I had, to be able to act with him. Man, he was so incredibly humble and amazing.”
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood opens in Australia on August 15.