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Film

The 10 most controversial movies screened at the Cannes Film Festival

@Russellisation

The annual Cannes Film Festival is a celebration of some of the most forward-thinking movies in the contemporary industry, as well as one of the strangest events in the cinematic calendar. Attracting film lovers from across the world, the festival inevitably brings in stuffy critics and purveyors of cinema with pretentious tastes, expecting the best from their high-class event. 

Home to several strange traditions, Cannes is known for its extended standing ovations to celebrate the finest films of the festival, and conversely, its practice of ‘mass walkouts’ for movies that simply don’t cut the mustard. Usually, this notorious mark of protest is reserved for horror movies or European arthouse flicks that push the boundaries of good taste and strive for something controversial. 

Headlines for the number of people to walk out of a film are often shared with the film that was awarded the longest standing ovation, with the marching of critics’ feet from their seats being seen as something of a strange triumph for divisive filmmakers. 

Across the course of 76 years, the Cannes Film Festival has been home to several controversial movies, with the likes of Lars von Trier, Gaspar Noé and David Cronenberg rejoicing for every critic they can make leave their movie. 

The 10 most controversial movies screened at the Cannes:

10. Lost River (Ryan Gosling, 2014)

Poor Ryan Gosling hasn’t had the best luck when it comes to Cannes, with his 2013 movie Only God Forgives being heavily criticised before his directorial debut was slammed just one year later. The 2014 film is a mix of Nicolas Winding Refn and David Lynch following a single mother who is led into a dark underworld whilst her son simultaneously discovers an underwater land. 

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Matt Smith and Eva Mendes, the film was met with tremendous negativity, including mass booing and a considerable amount of walkouts at its Cannes premiere. 

9. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Remarkably, the iconic Martin Scorsese movie Taxi Driver starring Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Jodie Foster was booed at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976. Not only was it jeered and loudly booed for its violent conclusion, but several audience members also walked out of the screening, with the movie gaining a notorious reputation for its shocking gore. 

Several crew members for the film even reported that they didn’t feel particularly comfortable walking around the festival due to the film’s reputation, though this didn’t stop the film from picking up the Palme d’Or.

8. Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2006)

In all likelihood, you will have never heard of the 2006 movie Southland Tales, despite its staggering pop-culture filled cast that included the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Justin Timberlake, Seann William Scott, Kevin Smith and Sarah Michelle Gellar. It’s for good reason too, as the modern B-movie slumped with audiences and critics, failing dismally at the box office. 

Seeing mass walkouts, the film was heavily booed simply for the fact that it isn’t good. Safe to say it didn’t walk away with the Palme d’Or.

7. Love (Gaspar Noé, 2015)

Though this is the first Gaspar Noé film on this list, it most definitely won’t be the last, with his 3D softcore porn movie, Love, causing a major upset at the 2015 festival. Noé, who often seems to be purposefully (even playfully) provocative, seems to mock his stuffy Cannes audience in one particularly mental moment when a 3D penis ejaculates towards the audience. 

Also featuring graphic masturbation and full-on penetration, Love proved to be far too much for the Cannes audience, sparking walkouts in droves. 

6. The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael (Thomas Clay, 2005)

It’s not every year that a Danny Dyer movie finds itself screening at the Cannes Film Festival, though in 2005 the star appeared in The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael directed by Thomas Clay. A deeply disturbing movie about a young man manipulated into a life of drug abuse, at one point two men break into a woman’s hope, rape her and then murder her.

It’s an excessive, provocative scene that unsurprisingly caused people to escape the screening as quickly as possible, with Thomas Clay’s film seeing mass walkouts at the festival.

5. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

Lars von Trier is an infamous name at Cannes, provoking audiences in 2011 when he said “I understand Hitler” two years after he had brought his 2009 film Antichrist to shock the French audience. Known for several shocking scenes, no moment is better despised than the scene in which Willem Dafoe’s character mutilates his genitals, a scene that caused gasps, boos, walkouts and even faintings. 

For Lars von Trier this was merely another film in a long line that proved too much for general audiences, returning under a decade later to do it all over again…

4. The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier, 2018)

With two entries back to back, there’s simply no ignoring Lars von Trier’s 2018 movie The House That Jack Built starring Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz and Uma Thurman. Telling the story of a sadistic serial killer over the course of 12 years, von Trier’s film doesn’t shy away from showing the true extent of Jack’s murderous ways, with scenes including the protagonist cutting a woman’s breast off as well as shooting two children in the head. 

Audience members at the time slammed the movie for being “vile” and “disgusting” and, as a result, 100 people walked out of the screening. 

3. Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996)

Arguably, it was David Cronenberg’s 1996 movie about people who find sexual pleasure in crashing their cars that sparked the whole Cannes obsession with walking out of films that aren’t to the festival’s tastes. Featuring a serious amount of sex in and around automobiles, the film proved to be too much for some Cannes audiences, who booed, whistled and walked out in their droves when it came to the end of the film.

Passionately against the film, Jury President Francis Ford Coppola was famously resentful in giving Cronenberg the Jury Special Prize, even refusing to give it to the filmmaker personally.

2. Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, 2003)

Vincent Gallo’s 2003 movie Brown Bunny is not just one of the most hated films of Cannes history, but it is also up there as one of the most controversial movies of all time. In one extended shot, we see the director and actor Gallo receive a graphic blowjob from Chloë Sevigny, a moment that forced Roger Ebert to call the film, “the worst movie in the history of the Cannes Film Festival”. 

Whistling, booing and reportedly making the sound of a cow mooing, the film saw mass walkouts and a public outcry of disgust at the 2003 festival. 

1. Irréversible (Gaspar Noé, 2002)

There’s no film that has shocked Cannes more than Gaspar Noé’s 2002 film Irréversible, a film that features a truly disturbing 10-minute long scene depicting a woman being raped in a subway. Seeing an unbelievable 250 people walk out of the screening, the film saw an unprecedented response wherein several viewers needed urgent medical attention, with 20 people given oxygen after fainting during the screening. 

An ancient BBC report from the time even includes a quote from a baffled fire brigade spokesman, Lieutenant Gerard Courtel, who was on scene at the time, reporting “In 25 years in my job I’ve never seen this at the Cannes festival…The scenes in this film are unbearable, even for us professionals”.