The Grand Auditorium Louis Lumiere in Cannes.
Photo: ANTONIN THUILLIER/AFP via Getty Images
First thing I knew about Cannes back when I was still saying that S, were the boos. Every year, reports from France reported of ruthless cinephiles unleashing a storm of contempt on the unfortunate films that aroused their ire. Operating on a perverted calculus all their own, the Jackals of the Croisette didn’t just target terrible films that deserved it, eh The Sea of Treesbut worthy films that did not please Personal shopper, to. It didn’t matter how famous you were or how French you were. Nobody was sure.
The second thing I knew about Cannes was the standing ovation. Ten, 15, even 20 minute orgies of applause during which the hosanna recipients could do little but smile coyly, check the clock and sometimes light a cigarette. Analyzing the length of each ovation became the Cannes equivalent of pulling out the old tape measure. “Have you heard Red Rocket Do you have a five-minute standing O?” “It’s nothing The French Dispatch got a whole new!”
I’ve always found this dichotomy puzzling, as others’ subcultures often are. As Emily St. James put it while reading the Cannes coverage from a distance: “One might think that festival-goers have only two choices – to spring to their feet in wild adoration or to spring to their feet to greet the directors and angrily booing actors who dared desecrate the big screen with their garbage.” How can we put these seemingly incontrovertible facts into perspective?
Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: The boos and cheers don’t happen in the same theater.
I didn’t come up with this the first time I was in Cannes, and I probably wouldn’t have put it together the second time either had it not been for the advice of our critic Bilge Ebiri, a die-hard Cannes veteran. And so allow me before the 75th edition of the venerable festival kicks off on Tuesday night (my colleague Rachel Handler will be there – I’ve caught a respiratory illness which has gotten around but hopefully will be able to attend safely in the second week). to explain.
Both the boos and the ovations are part of film festival lore, the kind of things people do in Cannes because people do in Cannes. (Most festivals have their own equivalents: audiences at TIFF go “yarr” when the festival’s anti-piracy notice comes out, which is either an example of Canadian humor or what Americans think is Canadian humor.) But they find it in different social contexts. Standing ovations are given at the premieres and what you have to understand is that they take place at everyone Premiere. A Cannes premiere is usually a world premiere. This is the first time these films have been seen by anyone who didn’t work on them. So these standing ovations should be understood less as a mark of quality and more as the celebratory equivalent of saying “Congratulations” when someone has had a baby. You celebrate the entry of something new into the world, even if the thing turns out to be shit. And in both cases, the people who made it are right there in the room with you, and everyone has their cameras on their faces. (However, this image material is only projected onto a jumbotron in Cannes.) A hearty round of applause is part of the good manners.
While the mere existence of a standing ovation bears no relation to the quality of the film, the length of that ovation certainly does. In my experience, four minutes seems like the absolute minimum. This is “polite duty”. Five minutes is “mixed”. Six is “we liked it”. Real excitement will probably kick in in about seven minutes. A tip: if you mentally subtract four minutes from the number shown, you’ll get a better sense of how Cannes audiences really felt about a film.
The boos, on the other hand, almost always don’t happen in the Tony premieres, but in the press screenings. Premieres take place in the cavernous Grand Auditorium Louis Lumière, a place to see and be seen. Press screenings are usually smaller, darker affairs. Since everyone feels a little more anonymous, there is one Mystery Science Theater Mood. Journalists will scoff, whistle and, of course, boo. It wouldn’t be fair to say that the press screenings are where audiences express their “true” reactions, as the mood can sometimes be as performative as the premieres. But they’re certainly more rowdy and usually more fun.
Seasoned Cannes-goers can pick out subtle nuances in the timbre of each negative reaction. A boo can mean many different things, “This movie stinks” is just one of them. It could also mean “I thought I’d like it more than I did” or have nothing to do with the film itself. For honored filmmakers, boos function as a critical memento mori. The subtext reads, “We have praised you enough; now is the time to keep your ego in check.”
Even worse than boos for a filmmaker are whistles. “Booing, people are really angry. Whistles, they just get bored,” says director Michel Hazanvicius, whose film The search received such a reaction in 2014. But the low point is probably laughs. Cannes audiences aren’t shy about loudly mocking what they consider presumptuous, and it doesn’t take long for their heads to turn. The record appears to be a few seconds, set by Sean Penn The Last Facewhose opening role in 2016 caused incredulous laughter.
Keep that difference in mind as you read the festival reaction stories from the Croisette in the coming weeks. A film is usually never loved as it seems at the premiere, or hated as it seems at the press screenings. And it’s something I wish I had known my first few times at the festival. If you get an invite to a premiere out of the blue, that’s a sign the film could be a turkey – they’re probably just trying to keep you from the press screening!
https://www.vulture.com/2022/05/what-they-dont-tell-you-about-booing-in-cannes.html What they don’t tell you about the booing in Cannes