* Crowds and film world flock to Cannes on opening day
* Kidman, Dahan's "Grace of Monaco" receives negative press
* Jury head Jane Campion decries "sexism" in film industry
The glitzy 12-day festival on the palm-lined Cote d'Azur is a who's-who of the international film world and its red carpet one of the most watched, with stars ranging from China's Zhang Ziyi to France's Audrey Tautou mounting its famous steps.
Kidman, arriving in an evening blue gown with beaded bodice and sheer lace skirt, said she loved the French festival known both for its artistic variety and Mediterranean atmosphere.
"I had most amazing time shooting, living on the French Riviera and shooting in Monaco," Kidman told journalists after signing autographs for fans waiting since yesterday for a chance to see their favourite stars.
Eighteen films from directors as far away as Mauritania and Japan are in competition for the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize, to be handed out on May 24 along with other awards.
The kick-off films for the festival tend to be high on style and star power, with "Grace of Monaco" no exception.
The film starring Kidman as American actress Grace Kelly, who married Prince Rainier to become Princess Grace, was made by Olivier Dahan, the French director whose 2007 "La Vie en Rose" about the legendary singer Edith Piaf was a worldwide hit.
But advance press for the film has been overshadowed by a public dispute between Dahan and producer Harvey Weinstein, who owns the American distribution rights, over the final cut that under French law belongs to the director.
It was announced at Cannes that the spat had been resolved. "There's no longer any dispute," Dahan said. "Everything has been totally resolved. We work very well together and I'm very pleased with the current situation."
The movie, however, promptly drew a savaging from critics.
"The film made headlines due to conflicts between the director and Harvey Weinstein, but for once, we'd be tempted to side with 'Harvey Scissorhands', because it's hard to see how his edit of the film could be any worse than this one," the Indywire blog said after a press screening.
"It's a fairly conventional biopic," said Adrian Prechtel of the Munich's Abendzeitung newspaper.
"NOT A BIOPIC"
The film, partly shot in Monaco before its royal family fell out with Dahan and then condemned it, features Kidman playing a princess frustrated by her inability to fit in with residents of the tiny principality and her limited role as a monarch's wife.
She drives her Porsche at breakneck speed on Monaco's steep and twisty roads to vent her frustration. She's visibly bored by the big parties her husband's friend Aristotle Onassis (Robert Lindsay), shown with his then-wife opera singer Maria Callas (Paz Vega), holds aboard his yacht.
Kelly later had a car crash on those roads in 1982, after suffering a stroke while driving, so that part rings true.
But Dahan and Kidman acknowledged at a press conference that other salient details, like then-French President Charles de Gaulle visiting during a crisis between France and Monaco, and Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock going there to lure Kelly back to Hollywood, were fictionalised.
The children of Kelly and the late Rainier, Monaco's Prince Albert and his two sisters Caroline and Stephanie, have called the film a "farce" with no basis in reality - a public critique that Kidman said made her "sad."
"The film has no malice towards the family, nor to Grace nor Rainier. It's fictionalised, it's not a biopic ... you take dramatic licence at times," Kidman said.
"The performance was done with love," she said, expressing regret that the royal family would not attend the premiere.
Dahan said he had staged Hitchcock and de Gaulle visiting Monaco because they were essential images for the film.
"Politics are not paramount in the film, they are in the background to enhance the portrait of the characters, the portrait of Grace," he said.
The Cannes festival is a huge draw for the industry and public alike. About 127,000 visitors are expected, plus 30,000 accredited professionals, 4,000 journalists and 700 technicians, according to a periodical distributed by the festival.
With huge yachts bobbing offshore in the Mediterranean and luxury boutiques along the famous La Croisette boulevard awaiting well-heeled clientele, the pageant is the international film world's answer to Hollywood's Oscars.
Presiding over the festival is a nine-member jury headed by New Zealand director Jane Campion, the only woman ever to win the Palme d'Or - for 1993's "The Piano".
Campion on Wednesday spoke out against what she called sexism in the film industry that has kept female-directed films from being seen.
"There's some inherent sexism in the industry," Campion told journalists and film critics at a jury press conference earlier on Wednesday. "It does feel very undemocratic and women do notice. Time and time again, we don't get our share of representation."
While the nine-member jury is majority female, only two out of the 18 films in the main competition are by women directors.