Gus Van Sant‘s The Sea of Trees, a morose suicide drama with Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe and Naomi Watts, was spat and shat upon when it played the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Lionsgate/Roadside has the U.S. distribution rights but they haven’t announced a date — will they ever? The IMDB has it opening in Italy on 4.14 and in Japan on 4.29.
In the view of Variety‘s Justin Chang, Trees is “almost impressive in the way it shifts from dreary two-hander to so-so survival thriller to terminal-illness weepie to M. Night Shyamalan/Nicholas Sparks-level spiritual hokum…this risibly long-winded drama is perhaps above all a profound cultural insult, milking the lush green scenery of Japan’s famous Aokigahara forest for all it’s worth, while giving co-lead Ken Watanabe little to do other than moan in agony, mutter cryptically, and generally try to act as though McConaughey’s every word isn’t boring him (pardon the expression) to death.”
From my 5.15.15 Cannes review: “Sea of Trees was initially greeted with one or two souls applauding, but this was immediately followed by a chorus of boos, loud and sustained for a good five or six seconds. I wasn’t feeling the hate as much as lethargy and disappointment, which began to manifest fairly early. The symphonic, rotely soothing score by Mason Bates (i.e., the kind of music that tells the audience ‘you’ll be okay, this is a film about caring and compassion, no rude shocks in store’) told me right away that Trees would be one of Van Sant’s Finding Forrester-like films — an initially solemn, ultimately feel-good drama about ‘redemption’ and rediscovering the joy and necessity of embracing the struggle rather than dying by your own hand and blah blah.
“It’s not ineptly made or anything. It starts smoothly and delivers what most of us would call professional-level chops along with an emotionally earnest lead performance from Matthew McConaughey as a Massachucetts high-school teacher and widower looking to commit suicide under the shade of Japan’s Aokigahara forest. But Chris Sparling‘s screenplay jerks the manipulation chain once or twice too often, and the general scheme of the thing just felt tired and pat to me. Some were complaining that only McConaughey’s woes seem to matter to Van Sant with scant attention paid to the anguish of Ken Watanabe‘s character, whom McConaughey encounters in the ‘suicide forest’ and whose life he tries to save all through, but there’s a third-act twist…forget it.”