The Tree of Life wins the Palme d’Or

Will the Cannes win for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life boost its box office and awards season chances?

Despite being the most eagerly awaited film at this year’s festival, it divided critical opinion after screening last Monday and tonight’s win was, for some pundits, something of a surprise.

Can a film as bold and out there as Malick’s film is reported to be, really click with modern upscale audiences?

Some might pour cold water on the idea of this film being an Oscar contender and an arthouse hit, as it seems to take the usual ingredients of Malick’s films and takes them to new levels of sheer Malickness.

Take this paragraph from Todd McCarthy’s review of the film for the Hollywood Reporter:

“Brandishing an ambition it’s likely no film, including this one, could entirely fulfil, The Tree of Life is nonetheless a singular work, an impressionistic metaphysical inquiry into mankind’s place in the grand scheme of things that releases waves of insights amid its narrative imprecisions. This fifth feature in Terrence Malick’s eccentric four-decade career is a beauteous creation that ponders the imponderables, asks the questions that religious and thoughtful people have posed for millennia and provokes expansive philosophical musings along with intense personal introspection”

Somehow I don’t think this quote is going on the poster.

Let’s also not forget the very existence of this film in 2011 is something of a miracle.

Malick apparently approached Bill Pohlad, the head of production company River Road, several years ago with the basic idea for the project.

Filming began in 2008 and over the course of three years Malick shot and refined the film which features an extended sequence showing the birth of human existence (!); a family in 1950s Texas (starring Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain); and present day scenes of a man (Sean Penn) reflecting on his childhood.

Over the course of the last four years, the distribution company set up by Pohlad and Bob Berney (the now ironically named Apparition) came and went, whilst the film’s release was delayed from 2009 until 2010, when some expected it to play at that year’s Cannes festival.

A few months after that didn’t happen, Fox Searchlight eventually stepped in as US distributor, there were rumoured grumblings from exhibition folk that the film was too esoteric, and UK distributor Icon got in to a fight with international sales agent Summit over the release date (which means the UK opening is currently in limbo).

When the film was finally unveiled at Cannes last week, the divided responses were perhaps predictable, but the feverish anticipation before it screened and the added kick of a Palme d’Or win might actually say something powerful about the state of cinema in 2011.

In the same weekend that a movie based on a fairground ride dominates the global box office, could there be actually be an upscale hunger for a maverick auteur like Terrence Malick?

Fox Searchlight are past masters at releasing awards season bait (even if they only have one Best Picture win) but

At the moment, it seems like Win Win and The Descendants would be their most likely shots at Oscar glory.

Could it be that this upscale movie breaks out of the die-hard cineaste realm to become a respectable arthouse success?

Not only is there the unusualness of the project (I can’t think of anything remotely similar in recent memory), but also the selling point of its reclusive, poet-genius director.

I’m sure he has sincere reasons for doing zero press, but whether intentional or not, it just stokes the aura surrounding his already legendary status to levels that must leave PR professionals gasping in awe.

Could it be possible that the unusual and ‘uncommercial’ qualities of The Tree of Life and its director become a strength rather than a weakness?

> Official site and Tumblr
> Terrence Malick at Wikipedia
> Reviews of The Tree of Life from Cannes 2011

The Lars Von Trier Nazi Controversy

Director Lars Von Trier caused controversy by making jokes about Hitler at the Cannes press conference for his latest film.

Melancholia is a “psychological disaster drama” about the dispute between two sisters (played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) as a rogue planet hurtles towards Earth.

It screened for the press this morning and whilst the Danish director usually divides opinion, it got some of the more positive notices of his recent career.

When Von Trier turned up at the press conference with the word ‘fuck’ printed on his hand it may have seemed like his usual provocative behaviour.

For about 20 minutes, the press conference passed by with the usual questions from the foreign press to the filmmaker and actors.

It should be noted that questions during press conferences at Cannes can be unbelievably tedious and anodyne, which is why Von Trier perhaps decided to stir things up around the 20 minute mark.

He claimed he was making an explicit porn film with Kirsten Dunst, which elicited nervous laughter from the actress and journalists, and how it would be connected with the Church (this really has to be heard for the full effect).

So far, it was Von Trier playing his usual games, which I suspect he does to confuse, annoy and create publicity at the world’s biggest film festival.

But 3 minutes towards the end Von Trier proceeded to make, even by his own standards, some pretty inflammatory remarks.

When asked by Kate Muir of The Times about a previous comment he made regarding his interest in ‘Nazi asthetic’ in his films Von Trier said:

“I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew. Then later on came Susanne Bier [Jewish and Danish director] and then suddenly I wasn’t so happy about being a Jew. No, that was a joke, sorry. But it turned out I was not a Jew but even if I’d been a Jew I would be kind of a second rate Jew because there is kind of a hierarchy in the Jewish population. But anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out I was really a Nazi, you know, because my family was German … which also gave me some pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things, yes absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end”

At this point Dunst (sitting next to him) seemed physically uncomfortable, prompting Von Trier to say that there would be a point to his jokey ramblings.

“I think I understand the man. He’s not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him and I sympathize with him a little bit. But come on, I’m not for the Second World War, and I’m not against Jews. I am of course very much for Jews. No, not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. But still, …how can I get out of this sentence?”

He then expressed admiration for Nazi architect Albert Speer before ending another rambling sentence with:

“OK, I’m a Nazi.”

Peter Howell of the Toronto Sun then asked whether he would make a movie even bigger in scale than Melancholia:

“Yeah, that’s what we Nazis … we have a tendency to try to do things on a greater scale. Yeah, may be you could persuade me …the final solution with journalists.”

I don’t think any sane person would take Von Trier’s comments literally but many around the world would certainly take offence at his flippant joking about the mass murder and genocide of World War II.

The festival were quick to issue a press release:

“The Festival de Cannes was disturbed about the statements made by Lars von Trier in his press conference this morning in Cannes. Therefore the festival asked him to provide an explanation for his comments. The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology. The direction of the festival acknowledges this and is passing on Lars von Trier’s apology. The festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects.

Then followed an apology from Von Trier’s official apology:

“If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologise. I am not anti-semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi.”

Although this will undoubtedly get Von Trier and his latest film a lot of worldwide press, how it affects his career will be an open question.

A lot of people in the film world will dismiss this as the usual provocative statement that Von Trier is fond of making.

He angered some US critics with his trilogy about America – Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005) – as they presented an ironic flipside of the American dream and the director proudly claimed he had never been to the country.

In 2009, Antichrist scandalised some of the audience in Cannes with scenes of explicit sex and violence, whilst the ensuing press conference became rather heated.

Although a talented director, he remains a cinematic prankster who seems to revel in the publicity he gets for making provocative films and statements.

But this time he has made comments which, although intended as some kind of joke, will reverberate around the world.

Given that Mel Gibson was in Cannes last night maybe they should team up for a project?

> Reviews of Melancholia at Cannes 2011
> Lars Von Trier at Wikipedia

Tree of Life Cannes Reactions

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life finally premiered in Cannes today, but how was it received by the world’s critics?

The basic deal seems to be that the film is Malick turned up to 11 (heavy themes treated with a stunning visual sense) and that it’s going to divide people.

A new Malick film with Brad Pitt is already a must see for cinephiles around the globe and the positive trade reviews from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter perhaps indicate that however crazy it gets, discerning audiences are going to have a lot to absorb and discuss.

Whether it can crossover into the glare of the awards season remains a big question but this is already an event that has gone down in recent Cannes lore and Malick’s usual refusal to do any publicity has just stoked the must-see vibes around this film.

Here’s some brief snapshots of reactions from various critics:

POSITIVE

MIXED

NEGATIVE

Here are some of the reactions in image form.

> Check out more reviews on The Tree of Life from Cannes at MUBi
> Watch the trailer

Cannes 2011 Poster

The poster for the 64th Cannes film festival has been unveiled and it features a stylish retro image of Faye Dunaway.

Here is the portrait version:

The poster was designed by the Paris-based design agency H5, which is also providing the graphics for this year’s festival.

A marked improvement on last year’s depiction of Juliette Binoche with a magic paintbrush, the Dunaway image was originally taken by Jerry Schatzberg in 1970.

He is the US photographer and filmmaker who also shot the iconic cover for Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde (1966) album.

As a director Schatzberg is probably best known for Scarecrow (1973), the film with Al Pacino and Gene Hackman that shared the Grand Jury prize at Cannes.

Dunaway and Schatzberg will both be attending the festival this year for a screening of their 1970 film Puzzle of a Downfall Child, in a restored presentation that is guaranteed to look better than this YouTube clip:

In this short interview on Vimeo (posted by Antonin74) he describes how he met Dunaway and their collaboration on the film:

He went on to direct The Panic in Needle Park (1971), a drama about heroin use in New York that also won acclaim at Cannes and was a breakout film for Al Pacino.

This year’s festival takes place from May 11th-22nd.

> Cannes 2011
> Coverage of Cannes at indieWIRE
> Jerry Schatzberg