Matthew McConaughey on Cannes Reaction to ‘Sea of Trees’: ‘Anybody Has a Right to Boo’

Director Gus Van Sant points out that his Palme d’Or winner “Elephant” started a fistfight

Matthew McConaughey at Cannes
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Gus Van Sant‘s moody drama “The Sea of Trees” is already known at this year’s Cannes Film Festival as the competition movie that got booed, the film that joined the checkered list of films greeted with derision at the festival: “The Tree of Life,” “Brown Bunny,” “Antichrist,” “Wild at Heart” and others.

And the film’s star, Matthew McConaughey,  is fine with that.

“I heard that,” said the actor when asked about the booing during a press conference on Saturday. “And I would say, real simply, anyone has as much right to boo as they do to ovate.”

For his part, Van Sant said he read one review of the film this morning: “I thought, OK, now we know where we stand.”

He shrugged. “There was a story that there was some kind of fight [at Cannes] after an ‘Elephant’ screening,” he said of the 2003 movie of his that divided audiences but won the Palme d’Or. “There were fisticuffs…over [whether the movie was] good or bad, and actual punches.

“Who knows?”

Van Sant’s film stars McConaughey as a man who, for reasons that are explained in numerous flashbacks, ventures into a famous forest in Japan to kill himself. Before he can finish the job, he encounters a Japanese man (Ken Watanabe) who has begun to regret his own decision to commit suicide; together, the two try to make it out of the forest, and a suicide attempt turns into a fight for survival as Van Sant’s slow-paced and, many thought, shakily-plotted film unfolds.

Unusually, there was no applause as Van Sant, McConaughey and Naomi Watts entered the press room to begin the session, though most questioners took pains to point out that they really liked the movie.

Van Sant said he was attracted to the “jigsaw puzzle” aspect of the story, while McConaughey summed it up as “a supernatural trip through purgatory.” His character, he added, “Took this trip through annihilation to get to salvation. You have to face death to find life, and I found that life-affirming.”

At the same time, he added, “There were many times in the making of this movie when I thought, I don’t know what I’m doing. And then I thought, welcome to Arthur. He doesn’t have any answers, either.”

When asked what he felt about coming to Cannes, McConaughey simply grinned and said, “I’m happy to be here. I’m happy that the film got in… I like the film.

“We’re declaring now, ‘Here it is. Hope you like it.’”

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