Monday 16 May 2011

Cannes 2011: The tree of life suffers in the Cannes maelstrom

I was waxing lyrical yesterday about the Cannes film festival, and how it was this magical place for film fans which constantly surprises me. But seeing what just happened to the Tree of life brought back some memories of an uglier side of the festival from the time I used to attend a few years ago, and it seems things have not changed much.

Unlike what I have seen happen in any other film festivals in the world with more respectful participants, in Cannes, a certain type of film critics, with a chip on their shoulder and an inflated sense of self-importance, feel the need to make their opinion hear, very loudly, especially at the 830am press conference, with loud boos and jeers, followed by a deluge of twitter updates. That is after they would have sold their parents to get in an oversubscribed screening. Not that I deny the right to criticise, far from it, I, for one, have been very vocal with my dislike of The king's speech. But this is pushing it to a whole new level.

And this is what happened this morning at the press screening of The tree of life, arguably the most anticipated film of the festival, which was greeted by boos, (promptly followed by counter applause it has to be noted). And the first twitter updates that followed and subsequent reviews were, at best, mixed. I was actually wondering if the festival was truly the best place to present the potentially delicate new film from discrete and media shy director Terrence Malick. And as much as I love his films, with The the thin red line being up there in my absolute top three favourite films of all time, the slightly new-agey and "important" themes worried me a little, with a narrative that weaves in the big bang, dinosaurs and the creation of our planet, within a more traditional family story.

The best and most insightful review I have read so far comes from Time Out, which describes it as an absolutely gorgeous film, with a breathtaking imagery, but which sadly only has platitudes to offer when confronted to the big questions it tackles.

Interestingly, a similar scenario happened to Quentin Tarantino with Inglorious basterds two years ago, which was cooly received after enormous expectations, and nearly buried, only to rise and shine a few months later with an unexpected blockbusting opening week end, followed by a solid career at the b.o. and a best film nod at the Oscars, with critics seemingly changing their mind after their initial negative reception.

The tree of life is probably too leftfield however to ever meet a large audience no matter what, despite the presence of Brad Pitt in the cast. But maybe, a few months down the line, far from the media circus of Cannes, we will be able to give it the quiet consideration it deserves. It is coming out today in France, and later in the rest in the rest of the world.

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