Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, screening out of competition at the fest, even ended with an onscreen dedication: "A film from Heath Ledger and friends."
Ledger, who died in January 2008, plays a snake-oil salesman type who is found hanging from a London bridge by two members of a traveling theater troupe. The group introduces Ledger to a magic portal that allows him to travel to different fantastical worlds that exist within people's imaginations.
"There was irony throughout this film and there was even more irony post Heath's death," Gilliam told reporters. "I hope he would be pleased with it. I think he would be."
Film critics may be another story...
While it was always going to be an uphill battle for the film to make an impression as anything other than Ledger's final outing, reviews are starting to trickle in for the carnival-set film, and while they praise the late actor's solid performance, they don't seem to be too overencouraged by the rest.
"The three stars that came to Gilliam's rescue also make amusing contributions, but it's hard not to wonder how much better the film would have been with a complete performance by the charismatic and adventurous Ledger," opines the Hollywood Reporter.
With Ledger dying prior to the film's completion, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped in to see through the role, playing versions of Ledger's character as he makes his way through three portal worlds. The titular doctor, played by Christopher Plummer, is a fellow traveling showman who made a pact with the devil.
The Reporter predicts a middling commercial reception, finding the film is neither "intelligent enough nor silly or grotesque enough to become a lasting favorite."
London's Guardian, meanwhile, was apparently unable to get past the missing star, writing, "the whole thing is rather sad."
"I don't think Terry Gilliam's film was intended as a tragedy, but that's how it plays."
Variety, however, gave it a more promising review, saying Gilliam "has made a pretty good thing out of a very bad situation."
And while the trade called the film "overly hectic," it does see success on the horizon.
"With Ledger onscreen more than might have been expected, the film possesses strong curiosity value bolstered by generally lively action and excellent visual effects, making for good commercial prospects in most markets."
Gilliam initially had shut down the production after Ledger's death, but he continued on in tribute to the star.
"The choice I made was to close the film down," the director told reporters at the fest. "I couldn't see how we could finish it without Heath because we were in the middle of production."
And the filmmaker says it's Ledger's performance that makes the film.
"Heath was enjoying himself so much and he was ad-libbing a lot, which I don't normally allow," he said. "He got everybody else going. Everybody was just energized by Heath. He was extraordinary. He was almost exhausting because he had so much energy.
"What I thought was interesting was to watch people filling the void that Heath left. Everybody was just growing to make sure that there was no void left in the space that Heath had left us."
Ledger's family, meanwhile, has yet to see the film, but Gilliam has high hopes for their approval.
"What was important for me was just to make a film with Heath's last performance up there alive and well, and I think they're going to be delighted by it."
The film does not yet have a U.S. release date, but is scheduled to open in European theaters this fall.
(Originally published on May 22, 2009 at 8:50 a.m. PT)