‘Tree of Life’ Sparks Mixed Frenzy of Boos, Applause, Glowing Reviews
CANNES -- Ending a prolonged waiting game, Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" finally made its way to the Cannes Film Festival, where it was met Monday with scattered boos, an initial round of applause and then a growing chorus of appreciative reviews.
The Palais was packed full of press, who pushed and shoved to secure a seat for the 8:30 a.m. screening that marked the official bow of the movie, which the festival had originally hoped to screen last year only to be told at the time that it was not ready.
And even before the final credits rolled on the elusive director's 138-minute meditation on the meaning of life, the rush to judgment began.
With the film's final, ambiguous image still lingering on the screen, a number of vociferous boos rained down from the balcony, while scattered applause broke out on the floor of the festival's main theater.
"Life," which Malick has been nurturing for years, defies easy categorization: At its center is the evocative tale of a family in Texas in the '50s: The disappointed, disciplinarian dad is played by Brad Pitt, while Jessica Chastain floats through the movie as the comforting and consoling mom. Sean Penn is seen, relatively briefly, in framing sections as one of their sons, grown up, troubled, and wandering through high rises in Houston.
And then there is also a magisterial detour into a section that recreates the origins of the universe and the creation of planet Earth, with a stop along the way for a fleeting glimpse of some dinosaurs.
First reactions came in a rat-a-tat volley of tweets. "'Tree of Life' just ended... The ultimate refutation of narrative? An interminable tone poem?," tweeted Hollywood Elsewhere columnist Jeffrey Wells. Proclaimed Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "If the cosmic astronaut god-baby at the end of '2001' could come back to Earth and make a movie? It would pretty much be 'Tree of Life.'"
Amid a cluster of British journalists, one cracked that during the creation scenes, he kept expecting David Attenborough, the face of the BBC's nature docs, to pop up.
As if to provide context about Cannes' often over-headed instant reactions, Awards Daily's Sasha Stone reached back and found a New York Times account of the Cannes debut of Malick's 1978 "Days of Heaven," which sounded eerily prescient: "Its visual power and its photography were generally praised, but absence of a coherent, fully developed story was lamented."
As more substantive reviews began to issue forth, the tone turned more positive. Calling the movie "mad and magnificent," the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw wrote,"This film is not for everyone....But this is visionary cinema on an unashamedly huge scale." The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy noted that it is an "exceptional and major film" but is "hardly a movie for the masses and will polarize."
While Cannes tradition demands the auteur-of-the-day show up at an official press conference, Malick opted out of making an appearance at the presser -- and although Malick is in Cannes, there were conflicting reports whether he would walk the red carpet when the film formally screens Monday evening.