What the world could really do with is one more Tree of Life review

Thursday May 19th 2011

As you may have noticed, I’m falling drastically behind on my Cannes coverage. I’ve seen fifteen films so far and only reviewed five of them (and one of those was 3D Sex and Zen which doesn’t exactly count) so I figured I might as well write up the ones people have actually heard of before I start my 3000-word dissertation on Miss Bala.

On Monday morning, thousands of non-Leeds-based, non-young, non-mums assembled on the Croisette for the world’s first screening of Terence Malick’s endlessly-awaited epic The Tree of Life. It was so oversubscribed that an overflow screening had to be put on in another cinema, but not before ACTUAL PHYSICAL FIGHTS broke out between some of the more agitated members of press in the queue. Lesson: never come between a sweaty film critic and a new Malick movie unless you want to be crushed ‘neath their mighty heft.

Of course, me and T-Mal go way back so I had no trouble getting in.

Opening with a brief history of the universe (dinosaurs, supernovas, all that jazz…) before introducing the 1950s American family whose story makes up most of the film’s marathon runtime, The Tree of Life is massively over-ambitious and doesn’t care who knows it. Not everything sticks (the present-day Sean Penn segments get a bit tiresome) but at least 84% of the movie – give or take – is like nothing you’ve seen before and while it might be a bit premature to declare it a LANDMARK OF CINEMA like certain critics have, it undeniably has the feel of a ‘significant film’.

The Monday morning screening was also my first exposure to the uniquely festival-based experience of post-film booing. By the time the credits rolled, the audience was divided almost equally between those who were applauding, those who were booing, and people like me who were just a bit perplexed by the whole thing. I really don’t get the booing thing. It’s as if people feel they’ve been personally wronged by a film, despite the fact that they’re seeing it for free and have the option to leave at any time. And there’s something annoyingly mob-ish about it too – I don’t imagine many of them would insult Malick to his face. They know they’d get a beatdown.

It should be said that anyone with a low pretentiousness threshold is going to struggle with the film. It may be bold and beautiful, but it’s also about as preachy and self-important as cinema gets – even by arthouse standards. Still, if you can suspend your cynicism and OPEN YOUR BLOODY HEART FOR A SECOND, YOU LIFELESS SHELL then The Tree of Life is truly a sight to behold.

As far as I’m aware, the UK release of the film is still in limbo, but given just how arty it really is, I don’t imagine it’ll open very wide anyway. Coaches from Leeds to London can be booked here.