If the Cannes Film Festival, which gets underway tonight, is known for one thing, it’s the festival’s close proximity to topless beaches. But if it’s known for two things, it’s the emotional, emphatic responses that usually greet the films. These reactions come from audiences that are unafraid to tell the film (and the filmmakers, who are often sitting in the theater, squirming inside their rented tuxedoes and sequined ball gowns) how much they love or (just as often) hate, these movies.
Not that these audiences are always right – far from it. Some of the movies that have been audibly shouted down are the ones (in the same festival) that take home the top prizes or garner widespread critical and commercial approval outside of Cannes. The Brooklyn Academy of Music is currently having a Booed at Cannes mini-festival, celebrating some of the best movies with the worst reputations. We wanted to also look at ten movies that got hissed at in Cannes and what happened afterwards.
“Antichrist” (Lars von Trier)
The movie: In von Trier’s “difficult” psychological horror movie, a married couple (fearlessly portrayed by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) unravels psychologically following the death of their infant son.
The reaction: It sounded sort of like bedlam, which isn’t all that shocking considering “Antichrist,” with its graphic scenes of sex and violence, is more grindhouse than arthouse (keep in mind the movie was in competition, too). According to a Reuters report from the time, “jeers and laughter broke out during scenes ranging from a talking fox to graphically-portrayed gender mutilation.” Also: “Applause from a handful of viewers was drowned out by booing at the end.” (A few months later at a press screening during the New York Film Festival, someone fainted and had to be carried out of the theater. We were there.) It’s sort of amazing that von Trier would wait until his comparatively bucolic “Melancholia” to make outrageous comments about Nazis (getting him temporarily banned from the festival). Later in the festival, von Trier cheekily called himself “the best director in the world.” Gainsbourg ultimately won the festival’s award for Best Actress, with the Ecumenical Jury awarding the film a special “anti-award” for what they perceived to be “the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world.”
Life After Cannes: “Antichrist,” released that fall by IFC Films on multiple platforms, became a “you’ve-got-to-see-this” cult sensation, with lines always winding down the block at downtown New York’s IFC Center and T-shirts and memes (mostly centered the movie’s bizarre talking fox) springing up instantly. It earned no major awards or accolades that season, but was later released as a deluxe DVD by the prestigious Criterion Collection. Chaos continues to reign.
“Marie Antoinette” (Sofia Coppola)
The movie: A hyper-stylized look at the life of the Queen consort (played by Kirsten Dunst) in the tempestuous years leading up to the French Revolution.
The reaction: In a New York Times piece called “The Best Or Worst Of Times?,” it was reported that the theater was “filled with lusty boos and a smattering of applause.” Roger Ebert claimed that, “not more than five people, maybe 10, booed.” (He would later defend the movie and award it four stars, noting that it was Coppola’s “third film entering on the loneliness of being female and surrounded by a world that knows how to use you but not how to value and understand you.” USA Today asked the filmmaker about the response. “I didn’t know about the boos,” Coppola said. “But it’s better than a mediocre response.” Still, the movie instantly gained a crop of strong defenders (Ebert being one of them) and while those initial boos painted a portrait of a film in deep trouble, it never really materialized as such.
Life After Cannes: The film, with its anachronistic soundtrack and pop sensibilities, proved just as divisive upon release, with most at least lauding Coppola’s gutsiness, if not her artistic follow-through (it got a greater critical response in France, the site of those initial boos, oddly enough). While an under-performer at the box office, it did win the Best Costume Design Oscar and remains something of a cult favorite (it cries out for a sorely needed Blu-ray release).
“The Brown Bunny” (Vincent Gallo)
The movie: A wayward motorcycle racer (writer/director/producer/editor Vincent Gallo) slowly makes his way across the country in this arty road movie.
The reaction: Famously, the movie came under fire from Roger Ebert, who apparently was so bored during his screening of the movie that he sang “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” aloud. He later called it the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival (no small feat) and surmised that the film received its boos not because of the content of the film (which includes an explicit blowjob performed by actress Chloe Sevigny) but “simply because of its awfulness.” This touched off a war of words between the director and critic. As Ebert wrote dryly on his blog: “Vincent Gallo has put a curse on my colon and a hex on my prostate.” What makes this whole situation stranger is that, at the time, Gallo was so hurt by the boos at Cannes that he vowed (while still at the festival) to never make another movie again. “I’ll never make another movie again. I mean it,” Gallo vowed to Reuters. He then added: “It is a disaster of a film and it was a waste of time. I apologize to the financiers, but it was never my intention to make a pretentious film, a self-indulgent film, a useless film, an unengaging film.” At a party he was quoted as saying, “Being booed at was not much fun.”
Life After Cannes: Perhaps most fascinatingly, the dialogue between Ebert and Gallo continued. Gallo tightened the movie by almost a half hour (but still left in things like him washing his car in what feels like real time) and Ebert re-watched the movie and ultimately gave it his approval. Ebert wrote, “… he transformed the film’s form and purpose now emerge from the miasma of the original cut, and are quietly, sadly, effective. It is said that editing is the soul of the cinema; in the case of ‘The Brown Bunny,’ it is its salvation.” Who says film critics can’t change their minds? Gallo certainly did: he directed a 2010 black-and-white drama called “Promises Written on Water” that screened at the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, but didn’t make much of a dent elsewhere (it has yet to be commercially released). Amongst those who defended the new cut of the film were Cahiers du Cinema, which named it one of the best films of 2004, and New York Times critic Manhola Dargis, who defended Sevigny’s fearless performance. “Even in the age of girls gone wild it’s genuinely startling to see a name actress throw caution and perhaps her career to the wind. But give the woman credit,” Dargis wrote. “Actresses have been asked and even bullied into performing similar acts for filmmakers since the movies began, usually behind closed doors. Ms. Sevigny isn’t hiding behind anyone’s desk. She says her lines with feeling and puts her iconoclasm right out there where everyone can see it; she may be nuts, but she’s also unforgettable.”
“Tree of Life” (Terrence Malick)
The movie: A meditative look that combines the lives of a family in suburban Texas in the fifties (led by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain), the adult life of one of those sons, and the cosmic beginnings of life.
The reaction: Instead of the usual “it was booed into oblivion,” there was a more nuanced response to “Tree of Life” – alongside the smattering of boos (one of us was there and claims that it was a small but vocal minority) was what Entertainment Weekly described as “counter-applause.” They cited the “many supporters” as the ones behind the push-back, but still admitted that it was “a shocking way for the movie to debut.” This is especially true because no movie at the festival had this kind of Teutonic importance surrounding it – it was something that Malick had been tinkering with, off and on, since right after “Days of Heaven.” Critics like Indiewire’s own Eric Kohn said that “the booing at the end of today’s ‘Tree of Life’ screening was an ugly, animalistic thing.” Pitt, appearing later at the press conference, defended Malick’s stylistic choices as well as his desire to remain anonymously aloof. “You know how you have a favorite song and then you hear the band describing your favorite lyrics, and then you’re disappointed?” he asked the press conference crowd, overstuffed with journalists. They responded blankly. “No?” he asked. Later in the festival, the jury (headed by Robert De Niro) awarded “Tree of Life” with the top prize, the Palme d’Or. Who’s booing now, bitches?
After Cannes: “Tree of Life” went on to appear on countless top ten lists that year, mostly at the top of those lists, and was nominated for three Academy Awards that winter – Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. In the controversial 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll (the one that had “Vertigo” usurping “Citizen Kane” as the greatest film of all time), 16 critics voted it as one of their 10 greatest films ever made.
“Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” (David Lynch)
The movie: An adaptation/prequel/spin-off of Lynch’s wildly popular (but ultimately short-lived) ABC television series “Twin Peaks,” the movie focused on the last week before teenager Laura Palmer’s body washed up on the shore, naked and covered in plastic.
The reaction: The Cannes reaction to “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” was somewhat noteworthy in the sense that, as The Quietus pointed out last year, the heckling boos didn’t occur when the movie finished, but happened often throughout the entire course of the movie. “Some members of the audience left the theatre in disgust,” The Quietus also noted. Quentin Tarantino, who was at the festival the same year, was captured on videotape leaving the screening. Crestfallen, he said, “I loved him, I loved him…” Later that year, as the Village Voice notes, in an interview with Elia Taylor, Tarantino infamously said, “David Lynch has disappeared so far up his own ass that I have no desire to see another David Lynch movie until I hear something different. And you know, I loved him.” Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Glieberman said “like ‘Nightmare on Elm Street‘ directed by Michelangelo Antonioni… a true folly,” while The New York Times’ notoriously cranky Vincent Canby said: “It’s not the worst movie ever made; it just seems to be.” Lynch wrote an article for a German movie magazine later that summer and began with piece the following sentence: “At the Cannes Film Festival I’ve always been asked the same question: Why did you make ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me?'”
After Cannes: Many critics, following its disastrous Cannes debut, have hailed the movie as “David Lynch’s masterpiece” (among them British critic Mark Kermode and, in an article published earlier today, The Village Voice’s Calum Marsh). It has become one of the touchstones of Lynch miscellanea, both because of its mysterious conception (supposedly Lynch shot enough footage to make three or four movies but chose the “last days of Laura Palmer” storyline; the deleted scenes have become lust-worthy artifacts) and its elliptical interpretations (summed up by this Grantland piece published on its 20th anniversary), which notes both the intricateness of the themes and visuals of “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” and its enduring influence on popular culture.
“Southland Tales” (Richard Kelly)
The movie: A post-apocalyptic satire by the director of “Donnie Darko” that encompasses time travel, multiple dimensions, a perpetual energy generator, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doing a Bugs Bunny impression for the better part of two hours.
The reaction: While footage uploaded to YouTube shows a cordial response to “Southland Tales,” that’s far from what actually happened. More than a year later, on the eve of the film’s short-lived theatrical debut (in a whopping 63 screens), Dennis Lim of the New York Times described the Cannes response as ranging “from negative to vicious.” The screenings were “marred by walkouts and boos.” “It was painful,” Kelly said to Lim about the Cannes reception, “I just thought, ‘Please let it be over.'” The version that played Cannes was largely unfinished, running more than three hours long and featuring uncompleted visual effects and music. British critic Mark Kermode described his thoughts at the time of being: “This is the worst film ever to be nominated for the Palme d’Or.” When he left the theater and people asked him what he thought, he said, “Well you’re never going to see it in that version because it’s so monumentally terrible. And you know what? I was right.” (While the Cannes cut has never been officially released, it has made its rounds online as a film geek curio, with even more zigzagging subplots and WTF-worthy performances, including more of Kevin Smith and an entire Janeane Garofalo performance that was axed entirely from the final film.) As the Guardian succinctly put it: “When a rough cut was screened at Cannes, it wasn’t just booed – it was denounced.”
After Cannes: The movie was widely panned by pretty much everyone (Richard Roeper called it “abstract crap”) but quickly developed a small but vocal set of defenders, among them The New York Times’ Manhola Dargis, the Village Voice’s J. Hoberman, Artforum’s Amy Taubin and the Village Voice’s Nathan Lee. Everyone involved in the movie (including stars Justin Timberlake and Wallace Shawn) expressed a kind of bemused bewilderment in being involved in the movie, which has since gone on have a small cult following, thanks largely to the film’s release on home video, where you could watch it multiple times while also smoking weed.
“The Da Vinci Code” (Ron Howard)
The movie: An adaptation of the Dan Brown historical thriller which sold roughly one billion copies worldwide, starring Tom Hanks as intrepid historical detective Robert Langdon.
The reaction: The fact that the film was a multi-million-dollar Hollywood spectacular certainly didn’t insulate it from the notoriously riotous Cannes audiences. According to The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who was quoted in a Bloomberg report about the movie’s lousy European response, the initial screening for “The Da Vinci Code” was marked by “a storm of incredulous laughter and the owl-looking hooting that French audiences use to expression derision.” The film was opening around the same time in the states and was similarly lambasted. Sukhdev Sandhu, writing for The Telegraph UK, said that “the booing brought Cannes to life,” and noted that he and other journalists would swap their favorite groan-worthy “Da Vinci Code” lines like baseball cards (“The Vitruvian Man! It’s one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous sketches!” was one of his favorites). Hollywood and Cannes have always been strange bedfellows; sometimes you want to kick that fellow out of bed almost as soon as they’ve climbed into it.
After Cannes: It was released around a swarm of downright hateful critical responses, but the movie was still a hit for Hanks and his director Ron Howard, so much so that they mounted a sequel, “Angels & Demons,” which was exponentially sillier (and therefore way more fun) than the predecessor. That film climaxed with Ewan McGregor parachuting away from a miniature black hole that opened up above the Vatican. Aw hell yeah.
“Taxi Driver” (Martin Scorsese)
The movie: Martin Scorsese‘s dark look at violent life of a loner Vietnam vet (Robert De Niro) who befriends a young prostitute (Jodie Foster) and becomes obsessed with a political campaign worker (Cybil Shepherd).
The reaction: Today, Cannes is known for its almost shellacked gorgeousness, but in the ’70s it was a different, altogether more dangerous time. As Entertainment Weekly noted, the year before “Taxi Driver” screened at Cannes, a bomb went off in the main viewing hall on the opening day. The year after “Taxi Driver” screened, another bomb was discovered in the same hall (it was safely defused by French police). This was the atmosphere where “Taxi Driver,” a singularly nihilistic and violent film, debuted. The boos are almost understandable in that context. The noteworthy aspect of “Taxi Driver”‘s booing was that it occurred not only during the screenings of the film, but during the awards ceremony too (Scorsese wasn’t there, he was back in the states toiling away on “New York, New York“). Even that year’s jury president Tennessee Williams (!) worried that the level of violence was too much, but the sheer brilliance of “Taxi Driver” overtook him and the rest of the jury, and the film was awarded with the top prize – Palme d’Or.
After Cannes: While now considered a bona fide classic, controversy surrounded the film long after Cannes. In 1981, when John Hinckley, Jr. tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan, he cited the film as inspiration and said that he attempted the killing to impress Jodie Foster. The incident shook Scorsese to the point that he quietly vowed to not make movies again. (Thankfully, he went back on that.) The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and the American Film Institute named it the 52nd greatest American film of all time. In 1994, it was selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry.
“Taking Woodstock” (Ang Lee)
The movie: A sweet comedy about a motel owner’s son (Demetri Martin) who helps convince his town to hold the world-changing Woodstock musical festival.
The reaction: Unlike many Cannes reactions, which pour on the acidic vitriol until there’s nothing left of the movie but a lumpy puddle, the response to “Taking Woodstock” was more subtle and chillier. The New York Times noted that the film “lacked the passion of Mr. Lee’s finest films,” while many (including Indiewire) took issue with its “messy historical fiction.” The Film Review put it like this: “Remember when critics booed Sofia Coppola at the ‘Marie Antoinette’ screening to the point she probably wished she could chop off her own head? Well former darling Ang Lee, who once wowed with ‘Brokeback Mountain‘ and ‘Lust, Caution,’ got a taste of the other side when his film ‘Taking Woodstock’ debuted.” Besides the smattering of boos, he was also met with indifference at the press conference, where he attempted to defend the movie’s “romantic” view of the late sixties as “the last piece of innocence we had.” In short: the response wasn’t particularly groovy, man.
After Cannes: Somewhat bafflingly, the film wasn’t released to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the Woodstock Festival (and the Summer of Love) but was, instead, released at the ass-end of summer, with little fanfare or support. The critics weren’t any more enthusiastic than they were at Cannes, with Melissa Anderson saying that the movie simply “recycles 60’s tropes” and is “prone to the laziest, wide-eyed oversimplifications,” full of “inane, occasionally borderline offensive portrayals of Jews, performance artists, trannies, Vietnam vets, squares, and freaks.” Thank god someone stood up for the performance artists! In hindsight, the movie is something of a lull in Ang Lee’s career; a passable, visually engaging little movie that doesn’t reach the highs of his Oscar-winning “Brokeback Mountain” or “Life of Pi.”
“Inglourious Basterds” (Quentin Tarantino)
The movie: A team of renegade American GIs (led by Brad Pitt) scalp Nazis behind enemy lines in a fantastical version of World War II-era Occupied France.
The reaction: While booing was reported, it was hardly confirmed (Anne Thompson said that while it wasn’t booed, it wasn’t exactly rapturously loved either and called the movie a “defiantly art film”), instead a fog of indifference settled around the movie. The Hollywood Reporter at the time noted that “things we think of as being Tarantino-esque, the long stretches of wickedly funny dialogue, the humor in the violence and outside characters strutting across the screen, are largely missing.” British critics summed up the divide, with The Guardian awarding it a single star and saying that it was an “armor-plated turkey,” while the BBC marked it as “a glorious, silly, blood-splattered return to form.” Two things to note: one, Tarantino was used to the booing. In 1994 when “Pulp Fiction” won the Palme d’Or, Tarantino was booed when he accepted the award, largely because most thought that the more deserving film that year was the final (and most devastating) film in Krzysztof Kieslowski‘s colors trilogy, “Red.” Secondly, that version of “Inglourious Basterds” that was screened at Cannes was not the same one that was released in theaters at the end of the summer. The Cannes cut was slightly longer and, from what we understand, baggier, and Tarantino fine-tuned several major scenes when he returned to Hollywood in June.
After Cannes: What makes the reaction at Cannes so funny is how wildly discordant it was with how the film was responded to when it actually opened theatrically. While some critics repeated their disappointment (and unease with the movie’s fast-and-loose interpretation of very real, very painful historical beats), the majority responded favorably. And what’s more – it was a smash hit with audiences, Tarantino’s biggest (until “Django Unchained“), with more than $300 million worldwide. It also racked up eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. It won in the Best Supporting Actor category for Christoph Waltz, who played “Jew hunter” Hans Landa.
Of course, many more movies have been audibly taunted at Cannes: to name but a few, there was “The Voice of the Moon,” “The Idiots,” “L’Avventura,” “L’Eclipse,” “We Own the Night,” “Tropical Malady,” “Palermo Shooting,” “Under the Sun of Satan,” “Wild at Heart,” “Crash” (David Cronenberg‘s, of course), “The Mother and the Whore,” “Seconds,” “Gertrud,” and “L’Argent.” Most of them, of course, didn’t deserve the response they got, but are there any that you would have jeered as the lights came up? Let us know in the comments section.