The omens are glorious on the first morning at Cannes. The sky is blue, the sea is green and the newspaper vendor cries "Liberation" on the steps of the Palais. Up ahead lie hundreds of movies and a world of joyous surprises. Then along comes Grace to leave the whole place in ruins.
Short of having a score of terrified carthorses defecate on the red carpet, it's hard to imagine a more disastrous start. This Cannes opens and is rotten inside. It clears its throat and coughs up a hairball. Grace of Monaco is purely dreadful; punchdrunk and listless; a simpering folly that almost made me look more fondly on Madonna's W.E. Nicole Kidman totters from ballroom to boudoir as our Hollywood princess, who fights for the rights of a bunch of imperilled, tax-dodging billionaires. Evil Charles De Gaulle comes to "crush the fairytale" and yet noble Grace is having none of it. "We have no army and wish no ill on anyone," she coos at the climax. She stands, we are later informed, as an inspiration to the generations that follow.
Shaken by the morning screening, I seek shelter in the market at the back of the Palais. The stalls are still being set up, touting their reliably enticing array of trashy cartoons and B-movie thrillers. I wander past the posters for Wolf Cop, Step Dog and Quackers 3D. Awful Nice appears to be a film about a stoner grizzly bear, while Hatched is a cheap and cheerful avian animation with a cast that features "Angelina Poultrie" and "Tiny SchwarzHENegger". Just moments earlier I was sat watching Derek Jacobi ham it up as the velvet-coated count in Grace of Monaco. Now, hey-presto, here he is again, on the poster for a film called Jail Caesar (which was actually up for sale here this time last year, too). He sports a fetching orange jumpsuit and flashes a peeved look as he is hoisted onto the shoulders of his fellow convicts.
No doubt Grace is an anomaly. The festival line-up looks decent, at least from this vantage. We're looking forward to seeing fresh work from the likes of David Cronenberg, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Andrey Zvagintsev. We're clinging to the schedule, staring at the horizon. The omens are still good.
Travel north to south through the Palais, from the red carpet to the beach, and you realise that the Cannes film festival is a tiered and hierarchical affair. The prestige projects sit in the shop window up front, while the fodder is flogged in the marche out back. But today, for whatever reason, the organisers appeared to have flipped the pyramid. In searching for a film to open their festival, it is as though they've run wild in the market and selected a title from the rack; reaching out for the thinnest and tackiest film they could find. I like their audacity, but still can't help feeling that they could have done better. Bad news for the selectors: they picked the wrong Derek Jacobi. They should have left Grace in the doldrums and opened with Jail Caesar instead.
• Peter Bradshaw's review of Grace of Monaco
• Five other dire films that premiered at Cannes