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From Antonioni to Lynch, BAMcinematek Takes a Second Look at Films 'Booed at Cannes'

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by Ryan Lattanzio
May 8, 2013 1:09 PM
1 Comment
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Holly Hunter in David Cronenberg's 'Crash.'


'Wild at Heart'

Also on the docket at BAM is a David Lynch double bill, a director continually met by scandal at Cannes. His gleefully evil southern gothic "Wild at Heart" scored the Palme d'Or in 1990--and plenty of boos. Of all Lynch's so-called "difficult" films -- alongside "Mulholland Drive" and "Inland Empire," the ones that really take you deep into Lynch country -- "Wild at Heart" offers the most tangible narrative in its twisted tale of lovers on the run. Audiences hated the film's graphic violence and lurid citations of "The Wizard of Oz." As with "Blue Velvet" before it, "Heart" offers an off-putting concoction of irony and melodrama, set to a slow boil. Nicholas Cage gives his perhaps his best performance as the guy whose snakeskin jacket symbolizes his belief in personal freedom.

Two years later, and more understandably so, Lynch's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" repelled audiences at Cannes. As a prequel to the cult TV series, "Fire Walk with Me" took the oddball, quietly malignant show to disturbing depths, grounding the dark fate of murdered high schooler Laura Palmer in a plot of rape, incest and drug addiction. These were the things viewers otherwise preferred to be kept off the small screen when "Twin Peaks" aired on CBS. "Fire Walk with Me" is one of Lynch's most confounding films. Like his other works, the first third is almost a separate film from the rest, one that seeks to prime you for a different and entirely warped experience.

'L'Argent'

I was surprised to learn that films by two much-loved French directors were hated upon their initial Cannes premieres. Robert Bresson's 1983 "L'Argent," which won him the best director prize, is one of the "Au Hasard Balthazar" director's best color features. Here he continues to explore the lives of listless youth living in Paris, putting the nail on the coffin -- at least for me -- of dreams of being an outlaw in France. Francois Truffaut's "The Soft Skin," regarded by J. Hoberman as one of the Nouvelle Vague director's best, also made its way into the BAM program.

David Cronenberg's "Crash" lost the Palme d'Or but picked up the Special Jury Prize "for audacity" in 1996. This shocking, cool, nihilistic little number has been banned all over the world. A far-cry from Paul Haggis' Oscar-winning "Crash," Cronenberg's NC-17 film, adapted from J.G. Ballard's novel, is a deeply unsexy look at (poly)sexual fetishists who get off on car crashes. No need to wonder why Cannes audiences hated this movie. Maybe it's because Ballard (James Spader) uses another character's flesh wound as a sexual orifice.

'Mademoiselle'

"Booed at Cannes" is not without its shortage of women-on-the-edge films. Tony Richardson's "Mademoiselle" features a fearless performance by Jeanne Moreau as a sadomasochistic schoolteacher, while Jean Eustache's rare "The Mother and the Whore" -- which I haven't seen but have been meaning to since Anna Paquin's character said it "looks like a cool movie" in "The Squid and the Whale" -- depicts a typically French love triangle.

Other works in the series include Fellini's last film "The Voice of the Moon," Bunuel's "El" and the brilliantly bizarre "Tropical Malady" by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Last but not least, it's hard to believe how much outrage was generated at the time by Martin Scorsese's urban nightmare "Taxi Driver," which won the Palme d'Or in 1976 after eliciting verbal protests due to explicit violence and the casting of the then 13-year-old Jodie Foster as a dolled-up prostitute. 

Read more about the full program here.

1 Comment

  • Sebastian | May 8, 2013 9:47 PMReply

    "El" by Bunuel is a fantastic film. My favorite. It's the perfect ilustration of paranoia. I use it to show that patology to my students in psychology. Hitchcock used one scene in this movie as a base for the bell tower scene in his film Vertigo. I highly recomend it.

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