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.
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.
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 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."