Cannes Film Festival 2019: Why inclusion of Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in the lineup is ideal

Gautam Chintamani

May 14, 2019 12:26:26 IST

After a few false alarms, Quentin Tarantino has finally made it to this year’s Cannes Film Festival with his new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. One of the most anticipated films at Cannes 2019, Once Upon Time in Hollywood was conspicuously missing from the original line-up announced by the festival in April, but with Tarantino slumming it in the editing room for the past few months, the film made it to the list of the 21 films competing for the coveted Palme d’Or. What makes the prospect of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood more enticing is how exactly 25 years ago, Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) won the filmmaker his first Palme d’Or. Although he’s up against the likes of Pedro Almodóvar, and the two-time Palme d’Or winners, Ken Loach and Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Tarantino’s ‘ninth’ film could be just the thing Cannes needed to make a big splash beyond the prize.

Cannes Film Festival 2019: Why inclusion of Tarantinos Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in the lineup is ideal

Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in the first look still of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Image via Instagram

Ever since it was announced, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, like most Tarantino projects, has been in the spotlight, but not for all for the right reasons. The film’s funding came under a shadow of doubt in the wake of the #MeToo revelations against former Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein, who had backed all of Tarantino’s films since Pulp Fiction. At the time when Tarantino was scouting for funding for what was touted as his most ambitious film, Uma Thurman went public about the manner Weinstein harassed her and how despite being aware Tarantino refused to take a stand. The actor also shared the gory details of Tarantino’s abuse of power by pushing her during Kill Bill by choking her, and spitting at her in the name of creativity and later forced her to perform a life-threatening stunt herself.

In a matter of two months after the allegations, Tarantino was given a hero’s welcome as he announced Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Flanked by Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the biggest movie stars in the world, who would also co-star in the film for the first time with Brad Pitt, Tarantino was the toast of the town. Even before a single frame of the film was shot, the top boss at Sony Pictures, hailed the upcoming movie’s screenplay as "the best thing he’d read in 30 years". Soon, names such as Margot Robbie, James Marsden, Dakota Fanning, and Al Pacino associated with the film, and with its selection at Cannes, the film has lived up to exceptions. Nothing less than an ode to both Hollywood and the old school movies, the film is in the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age and follows a faded television actor, Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Pitt), as they strive to achieve fame and success. Dalton’s neighbour happens to be Sharon Tate (Robbie), who was murdered in 1969 by Charles Manson’s followers, and many parallel stories featuring Bruce Lee, played by Mike Moh, and Steve McQueen, played by Damien Lewis, that try capture the spirit of the summer of love.

From what one has heard about the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there is no denying that this is just the kind of stuff Tarantino excels at. Few have even read into this being the final film in Tarantino’s proposed “revisionist history trilogy” or a trio of films connected not through the story, but by the fantasy of revenge. Both Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012) rewrote terrible tales from history and while everyone connected with the film has gone on record to say that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is not a Charles Manson murder film, who knows what narrative Tarantino has in store. Being the confessed cinephile, obsessed with Los Angels, Tarantino has also planned the film to be a love note to what cinema used to be. Tarantino’s longtime cinematographer Robert Richardson has shot Once Upon a Time In Hollywood on anamorphic 35mm film as shooting on 70mm, a format that he had previously used on The Hateful Eight on 70mm film, was proving to be too expensive. The film has many real locations that had to be designed to appear as they would in 1969 and moreover Tarantino had envisioned zooms in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and remarkable as it is, 70mm has tremendous limitations such as no zooms.

Besides Tarantino, Pedro Almodóvar (Dolor Y Gloria), Ken Loach (Sorry We Missed You) and the Dardenne brothers (Young Ahmed), the competition category at Cannes this year also features films by Terrence Malick (A Hidden Life), Xavier Dolan (Matthias and Maxime), and Bong Joon Ho (Parasite). But nearly everything else pales in front of Tarantino and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood when it comes to taking the heat off the organisers, thanks to their ‘No Netflix’ policy that has already earned considerable wrath. By sticking to its guns and refusing Netflix entirely, Cannes has lost out on a few prestigious films for the second year running. If last year, it said no to Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, this year it has refused Martin Scorsese’s opus The Irishman due to the film’s association with Netflix. Scorsese’s Taxi Driver won the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival and much like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Irishman, too, is homage to the cinema of the past albeit in a different manner. The film had been a passion project for the longest time for Scorsese and features Robert De Niro, Al Pacino besides Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci, and with a production budget of $200 million, it is the most expensive project of Scorsese’s career. Unlike The Avengers or the traditional summer tentpole, this gangster film uses special effects to make its actors look 30 years younger and had it not been for Netflix, which pumped in over $100 million the film might have never gotten made.

Everything about Tarantino makes him ideal for Cannes. He had always wanted Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to premiere at the festival and use it as a springboard. The festival has been kind to him in the past in terms of honour and love. But more than the filmmaker, it’s the festival that might be heaving a sigh of relief with him making the cut. The buzz surrounding Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is that it’s probably in the league of his past greats like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, at least in terms of the scale. It’s also rumoured that this might also be the second last film that Tarantino would direct as he had said he would retire after making ten films. Irrespective, the final of a supposed trilogy, and the silver jubilee of Pulp Fiction’s Palme d’Or, if the world’s current favourite auteur manages to repeat the glory, it would be the perfect ending.

Updated Date: May 14, 2019 12:43:57 IST

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