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Monday was Day 6 of the Cannes Film Festival, which marks the halfway point. It also meant film fans would finally—FINALLY—hear word on The Tree of Life, director Terrence Malick's long-awaited film about family life in 1950s Texas and the origin of the universe ... or something like that. And with expectations as high as they were, it shouldn't come as too big a surprise that reactions were decidedly mixed.
Many reports are focusing on a small portion of the Cannes crowd that actually booed The Tree of Life when the credits started rolling. Booing is actually quite common at the festival, however. Such critical and popular successes as Inglourious Basterds, Antichrist, Marie Antoinette, and Fair Game received their fair share of negative reactions at Europe's biggest festival, so you shouldn't be scared off by that.
The reviews themselves, in fact, lean positive. Some, of course, are calling this film the second coming of Citizen Kane. Malick has this incredibly loyal circle of hardcore supporters who have no problem saying he's the best filmmaker alive today. These folks—you know them when you read them—favor style over substance and technical achievement over narrative coherence. At least that's what seems to be the case here. The film's less-than-glowing reviews (even the ones that still fall in the positive camp) say Malick relies a little too much on beautiful imagery to tell his story and that the film's more mystical elements distract from what should be the emotional core of the story—the material featuring Brad Pitt as a tough father of three and Jessica Chastain as his meek and kind wife.
What all this means for The Tree of Life's potential box office and awards chances remains unclear. Everyone knew it would be a tough sell to the casual moviegoer, yet no amount of French booing is going to keep away hardcore "indiephiles" when the film opens in limited release May 27. The Academy will likely have a hard time ignoring some of the film's technical qualities, but we'll have to wait and see what the rest of the year brings before we anoint it as a Best Picture contender.
For now, we just have to move on. There are plenty more films to be shown at Cannes, including Lars von Trier's Melancholia and Pedro Almodovar's The Skin that I Inhabit. We'll be back to report on them, as well as the festival's big winners and losers, when it all wraps up on Sunday.