Terrence Malick's long-awaited return splits Cannes

Mon May 16, 2011 4:09pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White and Nick Vinocur

CANNES, France (Reuters) - The long wait for U.S. director Terrence Malick's return to the screen ended Monday with a mix of loud applause and jeers, as his drama "The Tree of Life" appeared to split critics at the Cannes film festival.

The drama starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn tells the story of a southern U.S. family in the 1950s against a backdrop of majestic cinematography, a sweeping musical score, scenery both pastoral and otherworldly, and huge star power.

At the end of the movie, in competition for a Palme d'Or prize for best picture and widely considered the most highly anticipated film to be presented at Cannes in years, a blend of loud applause and equally passionate jeers could be heard.

But there were no doubters among Cannes' fans, who shrieked with delight when Pitt, flanked by wife Angelina Jolie and Sean Penn, walked up the famous red-carpeted staircase to the main festival venue wearing a tuxedo and sunglasses.

And while early reviews of "The Tree of Life" have been mixed, its all-star Hollywood cast has injected a powerful dose of buzz to the Riviera festival after a glum 2010 show.

Much discussed was the absence of Terrence Malick himself on the red-carpet or the traditional post-screening news conference, which cast and friends attributed to shyness.

"He is shy, he's just very shy," said French director Luc Besson. "He's not far from here."