Two Weeks: On Cannes Critics Who Leave Just Before the Film Ends
by Alex Billington
May 16, 2014
Continuing my "Two Weeks in the South of France" adventures at the Cannes Film Festival, I finally have some thoughts to write after my morning press screening of Atom Egoyan's Captives. This festival, in all its grandeur, attracts the most diverse group of critics from all over the world. There is likely a critic attending from almost every country in the world, at least the majority of them, and this makes Cannes the ultimate global film festival, something that many other fests aspire to be but can't pull off like they do. I love this diversity and have made many new friends, but there are interesting quirks with a group of press this large.
The film (Egoyan's Captives), which is receiving very divisive love/hate reviews, is yet another kidnapping of children story, similar to Prisoners last year. Near the end when it reaches a point where a major piece of the story is resolved, I noticed a handful of critics get up and leave, even though the film was definitely not over. However, they were done with it, or so it seemed. This is something I've noticed at many screenings in years past - critics leaving 5 or 10 minutes before the end because it seems to reach a conclusion they were expecting and they don't want/need to see more. While I often feel like keeping these thoughts to myself, I was inspired by a rant by Roger Ebert from his Cannes notes about a critic at one of the morning screenings.
Except from Ebert's Two Weeks in the Midday Sun on Page 74. After an off-site lunch event, he continues:
"Back in Cannes, I took a nap, drank a cup of coffee at the cafe on the corner, and walked across to the Palais for the late press screening of Paul Newman's The Glass Menagerie. Every seat was taken. I was jammed in next to a French journalist who was using one of those annoying little penlights to illuminate his notepad. The bright light was distracting, and I asked him not to use it.
French critic: I am a critic! I take notes! After all, this is a press screening!
Self: I am a critic too, monsieur. Take your notes in the dark. The flashlight distracts me.
Frenchman: You must learn to concentrate.
Self: How would you like it if I flashed a light in your eyes during the movie?
Frenchman: Shut up!
The movie was a respectful retelling of the Tennessee Williams play, with John Malkovich supplying a cryptic narration, Joanne Woodward as the relentless mother, Karen Allen as the sad daughter, and James Naughton as the gentleman caller. Four good performances in a worthy movie. I kept myself alert by planning a pen-and-ink sketch of a diabolical French movie fiend hunched over his monstrous torchlight."
He sketched this comic about "Adventures of the Battling Critics" and the Frenchman with a flashlight:
Ebert was kind of a wise ass back then, but that's why this is so much fun to read. Surprisingly, there are no longer problems with flashlights and pen-lights at press screenings (I guess everyone did learn to "take your notes in the dark"). In fact, despite my major issues with cell phone use at TIFF, there has not been one issue with cell phone use in Cannes during press screenings. I've had a few issues with audience members being distracting (during the Antichrist premiere in 2009, one guy brought a plastic bag with food and was eating and loudly rustling the bag throughout the entire film) but in general, it's not that bad at this festival. Except for some odd choices by a couple of critics - like leaving a movie just 5 or 10 minutes before it ends.
On one hand, there are some excuses for leaving early. Press conferences start immediately after the film and some press need to get a good spot in line, so they leave early enough to beat the crowds. Other critics might have to run off to another movie that starts a mere 20 minutes after this one ends, and they still have a 10 minute walk to get to the theater. While these are acceptable reasons for leaving, as a critic (or reviewer or blogger or whatever you want to call me) I believe it is my job to sit through the entire movie, up until the credits begin rolling, to properly critique and/or comment on it. That said, it's just plain disrespectful to leave once you feel the story has wrapped up, even though perhaps the filmmaker has chosen to show more.
I don't mind people walking out of a movie if they don't like it (I've walked out of a few over the years, but in general I always try to sit through to the end just to see). But if you're going to stick with a film all the way up until those last 5 or 10 minutes, don't leave when the story reaches a point that you think is satisfying, even though it may not be the actual end. Stay all the way through. See where it goes. Wait for the credits to roll. You owe the filmmaker that much, especially if you sat through 90% of his film (even if it was terrible it is still their hard work). Once you've seen all of it, only then can someone criticize the filmmaker for adding too much excess to the end after it ends. But that's a whole other debate for another time and another place.
In all truth and honesty, this is not a problem that bugs me so much to say it is a travesty. But after noticing it happen again at this morning's screening, I felt it was worth mentioning. Just like Ebert did. My thoughts and feelings are admittedly raw, straight from the streets of Cannes. I don't want to hold back anymore, I want to fuel the fire, engage in invigorating discussions, and encourage more respect and thoughtfulness within this industry and amongst colleagues. As much as I love festivals, this industry attracts those with big egos (yes, myself included) who don't always respect their peers, even though cinema is a group experience.
Ironically, in the book, Ebert quotes what he refers to as "Brotman's Law" regarding Cannes market films: "If nothing has happened by the end of the first reel, nothing is going to happen." That's a good rule for seeing most films, especially the ones showing in the Cannes market, but for the most part - if you stick with a film to the end, then stick with it all the way until the credits. Yes, it's okay to stand at the back of theater until it ends, but don't leave at a point where you feel like it has wrapped up enough. Respect the filmmaker, respect the festival, and stay dedicated to the art we're all here to appreciate and admire. No reason not to.
Onward to my next screening at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, a three hour Turkish existential drama. We are just barely getting into Day 3 with many more premieres yet to come, so stick around for more reviews, blogs/editorials, and Ebert quotes from Two Weeks in the Midday Sun that will make you laugh and smile.