Why is it that a festival as reputable as Cannes, teeming with astute moviegoers whose tastes are perennially primed to welcome the most minimalist of dirges and the artiest of art films, stirs so many jeers, boos and walkouts year after year?
Last year, it was Carlos Reygadas' luminous and odd "Post Tenebras Lux" that caused one audience member to shout "Viva Bunuel!" from the ramparts. In another 2012 screening on the Croisette, Lee Daniels' swampy pulp piece "The Paperboy" elicited many a chair-slapping walkout when Nicole Kidman took a piss on Zac Efron's dewy beach body.
Beginning May 8 at BAMcinematek in New York, such decried films will get a second chance in a new environment where cinephiles are expected to bring no long-harbored grudges. "Booed at Cannes" showcases 15 films from some of cinema's most beloved auteurs -- Fellini, Bresson, Antonioni, Scorsese, Lynch and Weerasethakul, to name a few. For many reasons related to time and place, these films were reviled upon premiering at Cannes but have since gone on to achieve canon status, and many of them even won the Palme d'Or and other prizes.
The series kicks off with Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Gertrud" (1964), a psychological mood piece about a wealthy, bored aristocratic woman who takes up an affair with a young musician. Deemed a stuffy study of sofas and pianos -- and an essay in how long a director can stretch a take -- the film was loathed at Cannes. But it was second to Godard's "Band of Outsiders" on Cahier du Cinema's top 10 of 1964, and is now regarded as one of Dreyer's late-career greats. Nina Pens Rode gives a remarkably restrained performance as the title character, a caged bird in Danish high society.
Austere Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni was no stranger to mockery on the Croisette. Though his "L'Avventura" received a prize at the festival in 1960, many viewers were bored to tears by his torpid style and apathetic characters. Much of the same can be seen in his 1962 "L'Eclisse," screening in the BAMcinematek program.
With its languorous pacing and long takes of Monica Vitti indifferently ambling through an industrially ravaged Italy -- when is she not doing this in an Antonioni film? -- "L'Eclisse" was also greeted with jeers at Cannes despite winning the Special Jury Prize. "L'eclisse" is among Antonioni's most challenging films, though Vitti and co-star Alain Delon is sure easy on the eyes. The film's modernist ending continues to stump viewers, showing a world where human connection is futile, where the lovers (played by Vitti and Delon) do not meet for their appointed date by a water fountain, where the world simply goes on with or without us.