"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.
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.
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.