The Cannes Film Festival was designed as a reaction against the ‘suspicious’ dominance of the Italians and Germans at the the Venice Film Festival. Thus, it has always bestowed a deep critical affection upon daring storytellers not afraid to strut beyond the comfort zone of the industry. Such a desire to facilitate ‘the new’ and ‘the different’ has produced some remarkable winners, from Carol Reed’s shadow fable The Third Man to Roland Joffe’s attritional The Mission, and from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s nerve-shredding Le Salaire de la Peur to Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s masterwork. However, affording such dynamism means that for every twenty minute standing ovation, there is the equally renowned booing and catcalling. Studios order reshoots, producers make frantic calls to editors, directors reach for the bottle, ripping into flops at Cannes has become one of the festival’s more unseemly traditions. Thomas Clay’s reportedly unlikeable Soi Cowboy is the latest film to suffer the humilation of mass walkout, cruel whispers sealing it’s immediate fate. Gentry thinks it’s time to pay tribute to some of the movies that have received the notorious critical poo-pooing of Cannes.
Not all good publicity is good publicity. Just ask Vince Gallo. On the screening of his sophomore directorial effort, The Brown Bunny, despite a generally good reception, catcalls and boos clouded the film’s reputation. Thumb pioneer Roger Ebert even went as far as to deem the road movie “the worst film in the history of Cannes.” In typically astute style, Gallo retorted that Ebert was “a fat pig with the physique of a slave trader.” Insults aside, the film was forever tarnished and the absolute torment Gallo seemed to go through in completing the film seems to have been wasted on an unreceptive audience. It seems of little consequence that it’s actually a rather amazing and brave piece of filmmaking and a classic of the cinema of self-regard. Sporting the kind of relaxed afro that only an Italian-American can grow, Gallo seemed to be in an extended state of fatigue and heartbreak during his time in Cannes, which seemed to be the principal emotions inspired by the film itself. Re-cut for DVD release, it’s hard to know whether the always contrary Gallo had always intended to rejig the final version after first inciting a little hatred to fuel his irascible spirit.
There have been many films cut to ribbons by the unpredictable press that haunt the screening rooms of this most anticipated festival. The Da Vinci Code was laughed out of the room – whether or not it was the horrendous narrative, the sight of an albino Paul Bettany or the sheer experience of Tom Hanks’ ‘long hair’ remains uncertain, but it might be a while until we see Ron Howard take another crack at the Palme d’or. Not to forget Kelly Brook and Billy Zane’s unanticipated on-screen union, Fishtales in 2007. Too slight to be drubbed yet too fundamentally bad to totally ignore, the critics treated it like a prank of somekind, asking more questions about Zane’s battle with baldness than the content of the film. According to taste-mongers The Sun, one witness claimed, “I stayed as long as I could without crying in boredom.”
The Hiroshoma of all Cannes bombs, however, is Richard ‘Donnie Darko’ Kelly’s mesmeric Southland Tales. A special kind of venom was used to hiss this film off the screen, poisoning any hopes it had to succeed. Executives were fired, scenes re-shot, animated sequences inserted to explain the meandering wasteland of a narrative. The Guardian’s Shane Danielsen claimed that the audience was ‘united in contempt’ at the spectacle before them. This is an interesting point about films that are roundly berrated, critics seem to seek a kind of solidarity of opinion that just doesn’t exist. This makes me believe that such revulsion is the work of a bitter few and – journalists being as lazy as any other bunch of professionals offered a little sunshine and free alcohol – tend to assume whatever seems to be a popular opinion. Kelly’s film is no masterpiece but it is certainly compelling in a terrific kind of way. The dystopian mystery is too busy, too zany, too inventive, too original to be authentically reviled. This jamboree of a get together in some way affects the critics and they celebrate each year by crucifying a particular director as a way of connecting with one another.
I’m sure that another villain has emerged this year, some pervert molesting the sensibilities of cinema. But don’t take them on their word, don’t lazily dismiss what might well be a thoroughbread masquerading as a donkey – find out for yourself just how wrong the precious festival buzz can be.
See for yourself, a film with this musical sequence can’t be that bad, can it?
Watch out for our next article on the most revered films in the history of the Cannes Film Festival.
Mr Paolo Cabrelli