A Love-Hate Relationship

in 28th Montreal World Film Festival

by Marcelo Janot

On the FIPRESCI website, readers (critics and others) are encouraged to answer if film criticism can be considered as an art. We could expect to find answers to that question in the documentary Je t’aime … moi plus by Maria de Medeiros: It’s an investigation on film criticism by interviewing dozens of critics and filmmakers.

The film, shown in the documentary section of the Montreal International Film Festival, could have brought new aspects to our polemical work and the love-hate relationship between critics and directors. But it didn’t. It’s only a mere exchange of accusations, putting critics and réalisateurs in opposite wings. There are some interesting and quite curious testimonies in the movie, but what we see most are repetitions of the same old clichés that emerge every time.

The Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki, who lives in Brazil and is known among local critics for not being too tolerant with bad reviews about his films, talks about what seems to be the eternal frustration: the critics’ desire to become moviemakers (some of us succeeded, and very well, the film history proved it). Directors also complain that critics are always writing about the film that they wish to have been made instead of analysing from a director’s perspective. “The best critic is the one who shows the director aspects he hadn’t realized before in his own film”, says Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira.

For Wim Wenders there’s something much more important than any review (good or bad): a filmgoer who says hat one of his films he saw ten years ago had changed his life. But Wenders also says cruel reviews can be painful sometimes and even unbearable to actors, up to the point of committing suicide.

On the other hand, critics’ testimonials in the Medeiros’ documentary add fuel to the fire. Variety’s critic Todd McCarthy for example underlines that criticism is just one opinion, so anyone in a paper should write about movies. Kenneth Turan from Los Angeles Times admits he can sleep during the screening and even though be able to write about it.

Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros, who also directed (and got mixed reviews with) the feature film Captains of April, points the problem out to the viewers but never goes deeper. British critic Alexander Walker made the funniest statement of the film: “I never leave a screening before the end, like a prostitute never refuses her clients”. But he also thinks that for many young critics film history started with Star Wars. Unfortunately Medeiros didn’t interview any young critic – and didn’t catch a single opinion from the public, neither from producers, distributors or newspaper editors.

Meanwhile this very interesting and important debate is kept in such a superficial level, the relationship between critics and directors will always be closer to divorce than to romance. That’s why David Cronenberg seems to be wiser than his fellow directors when he says his biggest act of revenge against critics is simply to ignore them.