Chatting about his latest film, “Post Tenebras Lux,” on the BBC’s The Film Programme, director Carlos Reygadas accused film critics of what he described as “critic hooliganism.” In conversation with host Francine Stock, Reygadas spoke about how he perceives critics’ reaction to his film, which won the Best Director award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Here’s the full exchange in question:
“It’s interesting, though, if one looks at the critical reactions to your film. Everybody seems to love the first section. And then after that, everybody seems to divide as to whether or not they like different elements of the film.
Yes, that’s true. But I cannot do anything about it. [laughs] But there is something that is developing more and more lately — it’s always existed but now it’s getting to a huge peak — which is “critic hooliganism.” Critics, instead of doing their job, which is watching, thinking, reflecting, and writing, what they do is watch, don’t think much, get together, and behave like they’re football hooligans supporting Manchester United, for example. So they like it or they don’t and they insult and they shout and they don’t expect anything back so they are irresponsible and they can do whatever they want. And it is a pity.”
Those are the very last words of the interview, which is too bad; I would have liked to hear Reygadas expound on this theory a little bit. In his formulation, critics have cut thinking, reflecting, and writing out of the equation and replaced it with watching and bullying. On the one hand, this sounds a lot like the most common form of filmmaker sour grapes. On the other hand, he might have a point.
Not necessarily about the whole “hooliganism” thing, or with the idea that critics are “irresponsible” and can do “whatever they want.” But there’s no question that critics — like all writers in an online world — have less and less time for the middle parts of Reygadas’ four-part formulation of criticism. With tightening deadlines and fewer (and later) press screenings, critics are expected to go from watching to writing without much thinking or reflecting. There’s no question, at least in my mind, that the race to be first hurts the work.
Have critics become hooligans? In using that term, Reygadas was probably alluding to “Post Tenebras Lux”‘s angrily negative reception at Cannes; in The New York Times, Manohla Dargis called the boos that greeted its first press screening the “harshest” she’d heard for any movie since Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny.” But the Cannes press corps is a notoriously rowdy and vocal bunch. They cheer or boo screenings as a matter of custom. Even if they hated “Post Tenebras Lux,” you probably wouldn’t see critics throwing seats and setting their notebooks on fire at American press screenings.
The word “hooligan” suggests critics as rabid, perhaps even violent fans, ready to go on the attack when anyone dares to threaten their favorite filmmakers or challenge their ideas about cinema. I suppose that could apply to the atmosphere at a really testy Cannes press screening, but that description sounds less like the vast majority of critics than the angry fans who send death threats at them when they don’t like, say, “The Dark Knight Rises.” In such cases, critics are often the first line of defense against a broader form of movie hooliganism.
Critics have their favorites too, and at times they can get overly protective of them. If there is such a thing as critic hooliganism it would have to apply to really hardcore auteurists — like Clint Eastwood partisans who love the actor-director so much that they’ll ferociously defend “Space Cowboys” just because his name is attached to it (This is not a hypothetical example; I’ve had arguments with Eastwood nerds who looooooove “Space Cowboys”).
Ironically, Reygadas himself has not had the benefit of such blind loyalty. He’s received great reviews in the past — his previous movie, “Silent Light” holds an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes — but “Post Tenebras Lux” has generated much more mixed notices. It holds a solid B average on our Criticwire Network, but its Rotten Tomatoes score is a much less impressive 43%.
So some critics who loved “Silent Light” were less keen on “Post Tenebras Lux” — like the Times‘ Dargis, who gave “Silent Light” a very positive review, but found “Lux” “opaque” after its “stunningly beautiful opening” (echoing Francine Stock’s comments on The Film Programme). Instead of robotically trusting the name and reputation of a Cannes-feted director, the critics judged the movie on its own merits — and many didn’t like it. In that sense, their boos might have actually made them the opposite of critic hooligans.
Listen to more of The Film Programme.
[H/T Craig Skinner]