Two Weeks: On Cannes Critics Who Leave Just Before the Film Ends

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!
Self: Amateur!

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:

Adventures of the Battling CriticsAdventures of the Battling Critics

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.

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Reader Feedback - 12 Comments


As a humble user (nearing 4000 comments) I believe Billington and friends should develope a sweepstakes contest...the reward: a chance to accompany Billington and friends to these film festivals. What say you?

Xerxexx on May 16, 2014


I second that idea :o)

MattPeloquin on May 18, 2014


Yes! A fellow supporter!

Xerxexx on May 18, 2014


Alex, Alex, Alex....while I totally agree with what you are, sorry, whining about it's time to wake up and grow up. It's pretty simple. It's rather childish and immature to want people to see the world as you do and behave and act in the manner that you do. I'm sure you know this, but perhaps not. It used to bug me to no end when I watch films that people get up and leave and start chatting away during the credits. To me the credits rolling and the music playing are choices the filmmaker has made that add to the experience of the film. I still feel that way, but now I only (mildly) shake my head at the people talking and leaving while I'm trying to concentrate on the feelings and experiences I'm still having with the film. Why should I suffer with my own created agony over what others are doing? Also, who am I to say what anyone else should or shouldn't do? I just have to gut it out and concentrate more to experience it all the way I enjoy. I don't know, an old wise man once told me I'm really powerless over what others are doing and can only address what my reactions are to what they are doing. It helped me a lot when I contemplated that and then embraced it...thus changing my reactions, which are internal anyway and only I am responsible for my internal life...thoughts, feelings, etc. Righto cherio?

Bo on May 16, 2014


I disagree. If we let people do whatever they want, unaccounted for, without limitation, the world will divulge itself into madness. These people are being disrespectful and rude, and I find that fighting to make a difference is often very important. Plus, I am just rattling off my thoughts, and it always seems like the people the most upset by these thoughts are the ones doing this who don't like being called out for it. I understand your point, but I also don't believe this mentality does much but perpetuate a disinterested, careless world where people only think about themselves, not about others around them or the integrity of experience. This editorial isn't about "what I want", but rather trying to teach others a lesson about how to respect everyone else around them. Ignoring this only leads us down the wrong path... Cheerio?

Alex Billington on May 16, 2014


Well said. I went to see Monuments Men and someone in the front row was texting. Sure the film wasn't the greatest cinematic marvel but I still loathed the individual texting. Letting people slide with that behavior is terrible. Sure it takes courage to stand up and say something especially now but it needs to be done. Sure its just a movie and there might not need to be someone telling someone to stop talking, throwing popcorn, and texting...but someone needs to do it...respectfully of course. Hell theaters should just install signal jammers.

Xerxexx on May 17, 2014


I agree. Signal jammers. Good idea. Still, many people will continue to be very inconsiderate of others no matter so that brings us back to where we started. Best to cultivate tolerance and peaceful feelings. It sure feels better than anger and intolerance and the stress that comes with that. It'll never change. It's the human condition. The problem for me has always been how to live with it. Plus, I always remember that I'm not the theatre police so why take on that burden. Still, I find myself going out for films less and less just because it is too much of a drag it seems as people are always on their phones, etc. Best to just avoid them altogether. If I do go out I go to very early matinees where there are only a half dozen folks. Even then you can bet one person is going to text during the

Bo on May 17, 2014


Well said Bo. I understand your point. I believe in consideration especially when it comes to the my opinion we must combat the individuals that ignore theater etiquette with calm and polite verbal confrontation. If all else fails...water pistols.

Xerxexx on May 17, 2014


Yes, absolutely...confront, if you must, with calm and polite verbal means...still, how that's working out for you? It was a fruitless endeavor for me so I stopped banging my head against that wall. So good luck to both you and Alex. I hope you succeed, but you must forgive me if I have some serious all this smart phone texting started I've only seen it get worse in theaters and not better...sort of like that Greek myth of the poor sod rolling the huge boulder up the hill and when he reaches the top the boulder just rolls back to the bottom again... lol...

Bo on May 17, 2014


Its an uphill battle. A battle I will continue to fight.

Xerxexx on May 17, 2014


Thanks for your response, Alex. As I said, I am in total agreement with you on this matter. However, I stopped saying anything as it never did any good and the guilty parties always, always became upset at being confronted. We all read about the guy texting and being confronted by the older guy who after popcorn was thrown in his face for confronting the texting younger man shot and killed the young guy. Madness, just madness. So, be careful if you must insist upon confronting and teaching others. There's an old Zen saying...'You can't teach a pig to sing; it never works and it only irritates the pig'. I'll also go back to it's on me how I'm feeling internally no matter what the situation or what others are doing. I simply have learned not to give anyone or anything that kind of power over me. They're my feelings, generated by me. All this still happens when I go to movies; curious that it just doesn't affect me the way it used to. I'm more at peace with it all and what's better than that? As far as the world divulging itself into madness, that happened a long time ago, of that madness is people going to war and killing one another because they all are trying to get each other to do and behave the way they think they should and be like themselves. Interesting, no? Leave it be, leave it be...all is well just as it is and you cannot change it. But hell, lol, I respect you for trying. Nothing wrong with that. Good luck...just be careful,

Bo on May 17, 2014


Some people just don't like spoilers even while they're watching the movie. 😛

MLTC on May 17, 2014

Sorry, no commenting is allowed at this time.




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