Opinion: Why do Cannes film critics always stage walkouts?

Cannes Film Festival walkouts | Soho House

The revered French film festival takes place next week to showcase talent from around the world, but mid-movie exits won’t be a surprise, says Hanna Flint

Friday 13 May 2022  By Hanna Flint

Have you ever walked out of a movie? I’ve stopped plenty at home. Life’s too short to watch films if you simply aren’t enjoying it or, in my case as a critic, might not be getting paid to review. Yet, I’ve always managed to remain in my seat until the credits roll in a cinema setting, even when I’m not entirely entertained. Except those two times in 2011 when I just could not get on with The Tree Of Life or Honey 2 and decided to depart. I still have no idea how either one ended or feel the need to double check. Feel free to send me spoilers. Walkouts at film festivals, however, are actually quite common for critics. Cannes can get especially lively with exits mid-movie and some filmmakers consider it a badge of honour.

David Cronenberg recently told Deadline that he was anticipating a fair few departures at his upcoming screening of Crimes Of The Future at the French festival next week. ‘I do expect walkouts in Cannes, and that’s a very special thing. There are some very strong scenes,’ he said. ‘I mean, I’m sure that we will have walkouts within the first five minutes of the movie. I’m sure of that.’ Mixing surgery with performance art, the film reunites Cronenberg with Viggo Mortensen as a celebrity artiste in a dystopian world where self-modification and mutilation seems to be the height of avante-garde fashion and inspires erotic thrills. If critics in 1996 walked out during his Cannes screening of Crash, a film focused on a subculture of people turned on by car accidents, then a watch of the trailer all but confirms Cronenberg’s assertion for his latest offering. And more power to them.

Cannes Film Festival walkouts | Soho House
Cannes Film Festival walkouts | Soho House

Most of the Cannes walkouts we hear about are those concerning films that involve especially graphic content that can be unpleasant, gratuitous or both. Lars von Trier cornered that market with The Idiots, Antichrist and The House That Jack Built, which earnt both a standing ovation and more than 100 walkouts. ‘It’s quite important not to be loved by everybody, because then you’ve failed,’ von Trier said. ‘I’m not sure if they hated it enough, though. If it gets too popular, I’ll have a problem. But the reception seemed just about right, I think.’ It’s not a Gaspar Noé screening if the audience size doesn’t shrink either; 1998’s I Stand Alone, 2002’s Irréversible and 2015’s Love all had critics leaving in different measures. ‘I’m happy some people walk out during my film. It makes the ones who stay feel strong. And me too,’ he wrote in 1999. In 2018 he was distraught that only six people left during the screening of Climax: ‘Aw man, no, no, no! I usually have 25% of the audience walking out.’

Cannes Film Festival walkouts | Soho House

The film festivals I’ve been to have always appeared more sedate affairs than the melodramatic events that frequently accompany Cannes coverage. Admittedly, I’ve never been – it’s not really worth this freelance film writer covering her own costs in lieu of a sponsored outlet – but reading the tweets and news stories about people booing and jeering, it’s a wonder we don’t hear about more critics getting kicked out. Although I did learn recently that Mark Kermode was removed from The Idiots screening because he kept shouting in bad French ‘Il est merde!’

I think I’d rather naysayers just leave than provide an aggy commentary for those who are simply there to do their jobs and watch the movie. It’s just bad etiquette, right? And wouldn’t be accepted in any other theatrical setting. I have very simple rules for watching movies: turn your phone off, try to keep your mouth shut, especially when eating popcorn – the worst and loudest cinema snack – and if you’re not having a good time, leave. 

Cannes Film Festival walkouts | Soho House


No one puts CGI Swayze in the corner

The news that a second sequel to Dirty Dancing is in the works has earnt mostly a positive response, especially with the confirmation that Jennifer Grey will reprise her role as Baby. Will she still be called Baby? Her character was 18 in 1963 when the 1987 film was set, but now she’s in her fifties. Maybe she’s going by Frances, Fran or Franny now. Much to think about for writer-director Jonathan Levine who, according to Variety, is penning the script with Elizabeth Chomko.

It was the bit in the announcement about working with Patrick Swayze’s estate ‘to incorporate the actor’s presence in some way’ that had me concerned. I love his character Johnny, but I am hoping this won’t lead to him being CGI-ed into the movie. I’m not much of a fan of this recent trend of bringing long-dead actors back to life like in Ghostbusters: Afterlife with Harold Ramis. They just look like soulless facsimiles of venerated performers who pride themselves on their own ability to act, not have others act for them. Don’t dilute their memory. 

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