Monday at the Cannes Film Festival was bookended by extremes as the 2011 event hit its midpoint.
The day began with the much anticipated morning press and industry premiere of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, a film that many expected would debut in Cannes last year. Critics and journalists puzzled over Malick's artful new movie early Monday, but one patron booed at the end of the screening causing an online backlash that continues to ripple. Meanwhile, the night ended near midnight with a rousing screening of Lebanese director and actress Nadine Labacki's Where Do We Go Now (Et Maintenant on Va Ou?) leaving a thrilled audience cheering and clapping.
Even if the early responses to Malick's new film seemed subdued among the press on Monday, it was a reaction appropriate to the tone of the movie itself. The Tree of Life is exactly the sort of film Cannes is known for and with the exception of the heckler, the kind of movie that press here like to discuss and debate over the course of a festival. As reviews began to appear online today, it was clear that "The Tree of Life" had provoked critics.
"More meditation than movie, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is bound to mystify, awe and exasperate in equal measures," wrote indieWIRE's Eric Kohn in an early review today. "Another profoundly inspired and visually scrumptious multi-year production from the reclusive filmmaker, Malick’s fifth feature in a career that spans three decades contains his most audacious treatment of the themes percolating throughout his works."
Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter called the film, "A singular work, an impressionistic metaphysical inquiry into mankind's place in the grand scheme of things that releases waves of insights amid its narrative imprecisions."
Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote that "The Tree of Life" is, "A cosmic-interior epic of vainglorious proportions, a rebuke to realism, a disavowal of irony and comedy, a meditation on memory, and a gasp of horror and awe at the mysterious inevitability of loving, and losing those we love."
In contrast to "The Tree of Life," the response to Nadine Labacki's Where Do We Go Now tonight was uncharacteristic for this festival. Lots of laughs throughout the screening gave way to a nearly five minute standing ovation that included audience members chanting the director's name as if at a sporting event. Few films generate such exuberance and happiness here in Cannes. That said, as the joy wore off there was no question that it was the Malick film would be one talked about for a long time to come.
"This is visionary cinema on an unashamedly huge scale. Cinema that's thinking big," concluded Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, "Malick makes an awful lot of other film-makers look timid and negligible by comparison."
So, ten of the Cannes competition films have screened. Ten more to go.
Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre will kick off the second half of Cannes Tuesday. Advance word is quite positive for the competition entry.
Still to come over the next five days are Pedro Almodovar's La Piel Que Habito, Alain Cavalier's Pater, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da, Naomi Kawese's Hanezu No Tsuki, Radu Mihaileanu's La Source Des Femmes, Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, Takashi Miike's Ichimei, Paolo Sorrentino's This Must Be The Place, Lars von Trier's Melancholia.
Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and a founder of indieWIRE. Follow him on Twitter from Cannes (@eug) and follow the rest of FIlmLinc.com's Cannes coverage in our special section.