CANNES, France (AP) — The Cannes Film Festival has its own version of the Roman gladiator thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and its judgments can be just as harsh.
Nowhere are audience and critical reactions to films more closely measured, in standing ovation length or volubility of booing. Cannes can make a movie, but it can also break it. And it has humbled more than a few.
“There is something all very heightened there,” said Sofia Coppola. “There’re definitely a lot of opinions and provocations. That’s part of it.”
Coppola knows all too well. The last time she had a film in competition, 2006’s “Marie Antoinette,” it was booed by some members of the press. The French, as you might expect, felt some protectiveness over one of the country’s most famous royals.
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But “Marie Antoinette,” like many other films that have set upon by the boo birds of Cannes, arguably deserved better. Coppola, undeterred, will return to the lion’s den this year with “The Beguiled,” her remake of the Don Siegel-Clint Eastwood 1971 film that, as it happens, the French are known to adore.
When the boos ring out, the blood sport of it tends to light up social media and echo around the planet — even though they’re often uttered by only a handful of anonymous European critics in the dark. Unlike many other festivals, Cannes screens films — at least those in competition for the Palme d’Or — for the press either the night before, or the morning of, the official red-carpet premieres. Critics get the first crack.
This year’s festival is only a few days old but it has already heard a smattering of boos for Kornel Mundruczo’s audacious Hungarian drama film “Jupiter’s Moon” and for the Amazon Studios logo ahead of Todd Hayne’s “Wonderstruck” — possibly as collateral damage to the backlash against Netflix.
Even the slightest of tweaks has been booed. In the Cannes trademark pre-roll before in-competition screenings, an animated image floats dreamily up the festival’s famed red-carpet steps. But this time, each step has been labeled with a revered filmmaker’s name, including Kenji Mizoguchi, David Lean and, on the top step, Orson Welles. Some at a screening Thursday apparently didn’t like the change and announced their displeasure.
If cartoon stairs prompt les boos, what hope do the films have?
“When you come to Cannes, you’re prepared for anything,” the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas said last year after his Kristen Stewart-starring supernatural thriller “Personal Shopper” received a handful of boos.
“Personal Shopper” nevertheless earned the praise of most critics: it has an 80 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But other films can be virtually deep-sixed. Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, the fantasy neo-noir “Lost River,” was mercilessly heckled in 2014. It received a tiny theatrical-and-VOD release the next year.
Then there’s the case of Gus Van Sant’s “The Sea of Trees,” with Mathew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe as two men roaming Japan’s “suicide forest.” After being slammed on its Cannes debut, it was shelved for more than a year and eventually dribbled out in the smallest theatrically release contractually obligated. Van Sant, a previous Palme D’Or winner for 2003’s “Elephant,” has seen the Cannes highs and lows.
“It’s a volatile place,” he said after the “Sea of Trees” flop. “When I heard there were boos, I was like, ‘OK. It’s happened.'”
Such cautionary tales may have inspired some films to seek other shores. The major Hollywood studios have no films playing in Cannes this year; it’s possible that the festival simply isn’t worth the bottom-line risk. Cannes organizers, too, may have rethought some of its decisions — that it might not be serving anyone’s interests by accepting a mediocre film just for the star-power boost.
And yet boos in Cannes are also like a badge of honor, a battle scar from the often fickle tastes of moviegoers. Lists of the best films to be booed at Cannes are ubiquitous and have even spawned “Booed at Cannes” film series. A number of eventual Palme d’Or winners were booed, including Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976), Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” (2013) and David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” (1990).
Even Roger Ebert acknowledged getting in on the act. In his review for “Wild at Heart” he wrote that it debuted in Cannes “to great cheers and many boos, some of the latter from me.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP