My Indiewire colleague Nigel Smith just posted an outstanding interview with James Gray, director of the Cannes selection "The Immigrant" starring Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix. You should go read the entire article, but one particular part caught my eye because -- wait for it -- it was about critics' reaction to his new movie.
We've already covered "The Immigrant" in one of our Cannes Review Reports; the reaction that I found was mostly positive, and in some cases effusive, but also certainly mixed. One writer called the film the "biggest disappointment" at Cannes 2013; another went further and called it the "worst" of the festival. In other words: no universal praise here.
Asked about how critics have responded to "The Immigrant," and in particular to its deliberate pacing, Gray responded rather bluntly (and profanely):
"My movie is an hour and forty-eight minutes and lets scenes play, and I don't say this generally because I know it's not politically incorrect, but if the problem people have with the film is the pace, fuck ‘em, because we’re in Cannes, and this is not the place to be watching 'Transformers 3,' and they can go fuck themselves. It’s not that much work, and they should be ashamed of themselves. I didn’t know that.
I have no problem with hearing criticism, I have no problem with hearing people have a problem with the film, one way or another, but if the problem is like, 'Oh, it was slow,' they can go fuck themselves. Because movies are not barium enemas, you’re not supposed to get them over with as quickly as possible. This is a place where films are supposed to be a certain thing where they take their time and you should think about them. It’s supposed to be a place where cinema is something for thought, not fast food. If that’s what they want they should stay home. Plenty of movies for them in the multiplex, is what I would say."
Normally when a director tells critics to go fuck themselves I instinctively defend the critics. Nobody puts Baby in a corner, and by Baby I mean the Cannes press corps. On the other hand, I love James Gray. His last movie, "Two Lovers," was my favorite film of 2009, a fact that got me laughed at by more than a couple of my colleagues. Nobody puts Baby in a corner, and by Baby I mean James Gray. Or, wait, am I Baby here? I'm getting confused.
Regardless, in this rare instance -- and with the caveat that I reserve the right to completely change my mind once I actually see "The Immigrant" -- Gray might have a point. I've written about critics complaining about long or slow movies before. Movies are not barium enemas (thank God), and certainly if any place should be receptive to deliberate, serious, thoughtful movies, it's the Cannes Film Festival.
Note that Gray's response wasn't, "Huh, that's interesting, I thought the movie was paced very quickly. Maybe I need to go back in the editing room and rethink some of the second act." It was "You dopes! It's supposed to be slow." Now he probably could have phrased his comments a little more politely, but that doesn't mean he's automatically wrong. Okay, so "The Immigrant" is slow. Now tell me why.