Box office trumps critics, says 'Gatsby' director

Director Baz Luhrmann dismissed critics' howls over his exuberant take on "The Great Gatsby" as it opened the Cannes Film Festival Wednesday, saying the box office bonanza it was enjoying mattered more to him.

The Australian filmmaker told reporters after rough initial reviews and a muted reception at its first Cannes screening that he was used to challenging the tastemakers with his iconoclastic pictures.

"I made 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Romeo + Juliet' and 'Strictly Ballroom' for that matter and I never got one of those big, high critics scores," he said, when asked about the mediocre ratings "Gatsby" had drawn on review aggregate websites such as Rotten Tomatoes.

But Luhrmann, flanked by his stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, said that the European premiere at cinema's biggest showcase would give other critics a chance to weigh in with rave reviews.

"By the way, don't get the wrong idea, I love it so if you're thinking about it, go for it, don't hold back," he quipped.

Luhrmann said he was proud US audiences had embraced the 3-D, hip-hop-infused Gatsby, with an eye to the $51.1 million it raked in at the weekend's box office.

"I just care that people are going out and seeing it. I'm really so moved by that," he said, noting it had held its own against action blockbusters like "Iron Man 3".

"That was a very nervous weekend for us, very nervous and we're very thankful to the audience, very thankful and grateful."

DiCaprio, who starred in Luhrmann's 1996 "Romeo + Juliet", has been singled out for praise for his performance as the anti-hero Jay Gatsby, who amasses a dazzling fortune simply to win back the lost love of his youth, Daisy Buchanan.

The actor said the challenge of taking F. Scott Fitzgerald's meticulous prose from his 1925 novel and turning it into 21st-century cinema meant staying true to the tragic heart of the story.

"Ultimately what makes 'The Great Gatsby' great is what is edited out and left up to the interpretation of you as a reader," said DiCaprio, who first read the book as young adolescent.

"But that gave us more insight into creating these characters and was incredibly beneficial to us because you have to be much more specific when you make a film adaptation."

He said he thought audiences were still drawn to the story because aspirations driven by the American Dream were as current as ever, and now increasingly global.

"Ultimately I was fascinated by Gatsby as a character, I was moved by him. It no longer became a love story to me -- it became a tragedy of this new American, this man and the new world where everything was possible," he said.

"When you have eloquent, beautiful writing like that, it just makes the whole process that much more interesting and endlessly fascinating. We could have kept talking about how to portray this character and do this movie I think for years and years and years."

The Cannes Film Festival runs until May 26.