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Canned at Cannes: A Look at Festival Flops


The Cannes Film Festival is underway, and while it not the type of festival to garner excitement among the Trekkie and cosplay set, it does have its moments.

For a majority of the population, the red carpet strutting, the star-studded premieres and the posh gatherings on private yachts is what Cannes is all about. But for fans of schadenfreude, the French fest is also a source of great pleasure when it comes to spectacular film fails.

When a film bombs at Cannes, it doesn’t just gather a collection of bad reviews and meander on its merry way. The festival encourages mean spirited reactions from the moviegoers. The crowd will boo, they will hiss, they will scream and spit at the screen. All with the cast and crew of the film is a mere 10 feet away from them, ducking lower into their seats.

To bomb at Cannes is an event into itself.

It creates a large worldwide buzz than if a film was to perform well at the famous festival. For those who make it out alive with a bad film, it is a learning experience, or at least a humbling experience.

Some survive unscathed, while others fall into obscurity.

That said, let’s take a look a few of the biggest film flubs and disasters in Cannes history:

Taxi Driver (1976)


Director: Martin Scorsese

Best Line From a Review: “One of the best and most powerful of all films.” – Robert Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Audience Reaction: The audience did not agree with the jury that this film should take home the Palme d’Or and let them know with a vicious round of boos during the ceremony.

The Aftermath: It sounds crazy now, considering the classic status of Scorsese’s most popular pic, but at the time the gritty violence didn’t sit well with the elite that attended the fest. When the film won the Palme d’Or, the audience booed the decision. Luckily, Marty and star Robert DeNiro were both safe and sound in NY, far away from their overseas critics.

The film would later go on to win kudos aplenty, including a few Academy Award nods for Best Picture and Best Actor for DeNiro.

The reception of Taxi Driver is a good bar to measure the fest: not everything is perfect for every audience, and sometimes the audience just doesn’t know best. At the time, the French fest goers were just not ready for Travis Bickle and his unique brand of justice.

But sometimes, it takes a little time to see the genius of an artist.

The Brown Bunny (2003)


Director: Vincent Gallo

Best Line From a Review: “So unendurably boring that when the hero changes into a clean shirt, there was applause.” – Robert Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Audience Reaction: According to witnesses, hundred walked out. Those who stayed, only stayed to boo the movie at the end.

The Aftermath: The review that launched a thousand quips. The pandering pic features actor-director Gallo driving, riding a bike, driving, eating, driving and driving. In silence. For what seems to be hours. By the time we get to the Chloe Sevigny oral sex scene, the audience has pretty much checked out.

The uncut version of Brown Bunny was the definition of self-indulgent dribble.

When Roger Ebert saw this movie, he declared it the worse movie in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. After that, helmer Gallo went on the offensive, attacking the industry icon on a personal level for not sharing his vision. After Gallo called Ebert a “fat pig” to the New York Post and told The Observer that the critic had “the physique of a slave-trader.”

After the director wished cancer on the reviewer, Ebert laid down the best mic drop in the history of flame wars: “It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of The Brown Bunny.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)


Director: David Lynch

Best Line From a Review: “If inspiration is lacking, talent is not. Count Lynch down but never out.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Audience Reaction: Lots and lots of booing.

The Aftermath: Even as a fan of the groundbreaking series, it is easy to understand why festgoers jeered their hearts out at Lynch’s pic. For the most part, you need to be a fan of the series to understand what the hell is going on.

Out-of-context, the film was deemed as a confusing mess. From Laura’s “turkey in the straw” monologue to random Heather Graham spoiling the series for would-be viewers, watching the movie without watching the series is just a bad idea.

But as it happens, the film has garnered a fan base over the years, independent from the series itself. It will be fun to revisit when the new Twin Peaks hits airwaves in the very near future.

Southland Tales (2006)


Director: Richard Kelly

Best Line From a Review: “Dude, I have no idea.” – Dave White,

Audience Reaction: According to Ebert, the booing was so loud and often during the screening, that he was “dazed, confused, bewildered, bored, affronted, and deafened by the boos all around me.”

The Aftermath: Riding high on the success of Donnie Darko, Kelly headed over to the French fest with nothing but optimism. His latest pic, Southland Tales was one of three American pics competing for the Palme d’Or (including Marie Antoinette, also on this list).. Starring an eclectic all-star cast including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Dwayne Johnson, Justin Timberlake, Bai Ling and Mandy Moore, the sci-fi post-apocalyptic dark comedy was poised to be a breakout hit of the fest.

It wasn’t.

Critics and audiences universally panned the confusing pic that didn’t know if was a thriller or a comedy. Roger Ebert declared the film’s Cannes debut as “the most disastrous since, yes, The Brown Bunny.”

There is a light at the end of the tunnel though: Recently, the pic has found love online scribes, who now herald its vision of a post-nuclear America.

Marie Antoinette (2006)


Director: Sofia Coppola

Best Line From a Review: “It’s history written with truffles.” – Keith Phipps, AV Club

Audience Reaction: A strong mix of both boos and applause during the screening.

The Aftermath: One of the other American offerings in the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

Man, that just wasn’t our year.

To be fair, Marie Antoinette is not a bad movie. This isn’t just my opinion. A handful of critics, including Peter Travers and A.O. Scott liked the movie mashup. Helmer Sofia Coppola brings her own style of hipster sensibility to this epic historical drama that made use of modern music to tell the epic tale of the teen queen.

However, it’s a bit tricky to show a revisionist version of French history to a French audience.

The Lost in Translation helmer found herself at odds with a few of fest goers, who booed her interpretation of their beloved culture.

Antichrist (2009)


Director: Lars Von Trier

Best Line From a Review: “Lars von Trier cuts a big fat art-film fart with “Antichrist.” As if deliberately courting critical abuse, the Danish bad boy densely packs this theological-psychological horror opus with grotesque, self-consciously provocative images.” – Todd McCarthy, Variety

Audience Reaction: The laughter and jeers from filmgoers was said to drown out the dialogue. At the end of the movie, there were far more boos than applause.

The Aftermath: Years before Von Trier’s statements on his special bond with Adolf Hitler earned him a persona non-grata status at the Cannes Film Festival, the helmer had a headstart on pissing off French audiences with this addition to the torture-porn genre.

Unlike his past films that were critical darlings among the Cannes sect, this one left critics very confused and slightly disgusted. The experiment horror film offers extreme scenes of sex and mutilation, but very little reason as to why these scenes were needed. In the end, audiences felt violated and apparently lost a bit of love for the former Dogme 95 founder.

Grace of Monaco (2014)


Director: Olivier Dahan

Best Line From a Review: “It is almost perversely impressive how Dahan misses almost every target and squanders almost every opportunity.” – Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter

Audience Reaction: People ran from the theater like it was on fire.

The Aftermath: Oy vey, where to begin. It’s never a good sign when the director is already bad-mouthing a movie that has yet to premiere.

The film rode a wave of controversy when Dahan and producer Harvey Weinstein were coming to verbal blows about the cut of the film. There was even talk of pulling it from distribution. But the time of the Cannes premiere, everyone involved began to distance themselves from the stinker. Starring Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth, Grace is probably one of the higher-profile pics to sink at the fest.

BTW: Yes, it was awful. Just awful. The pic went on to open to dismal reviews and a sad box office before it was quickly forgotten.

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