Southland Tales, a sci-fi/dark comedy made by Richard Kelly (the Donnie Darko guy), is not a good movie. It's a sprawling, winding mess that tries so hard to be deep that you'd think it was a freshman philosophy major attempting to hit on you. It also nabbed a double hate dip of 39% critics/41% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, with the critic consensus calling it "frustratingly incoherent and unpolished."
Again, it's a bad movie, but it was once an even worse movie. The original cut of Southland Tales premiered at the Cannes film festival in 2006 and famously bombed with Roger Ebert describing the event, saying, "I was dazed, confused and deafened by the boos." Now, to be fair, a film getting booed at Cannes isn't entirely too rare, but the consensus opinion was that this screening of Southland Tales was a singular event. As such, Kelly made significant changes for his theatrical release, cutting close to 20 minutes of the film in the process, and buried the "Cannes Cut" for 15 years. That is, until last month when the "Cannes cut" was finally released. I managed to get my hands on a copy, and, let me tell you, after watching this monstrosity, it does not disappoint.
I want to give you a thorough synopsis for this movie, but the plot points are so random and disconnected that any attempt to detail them might leave you more confused. So I'll just say this: It's the future (even though it's 2008), it's dystopian (snipers patrol the beaches, an evil conglomerate controls a world-changing new fuel source, George Bush is still president. You get the drill.), and it stars The Rock. I won't say he's good, but he tries so, so hard. Justin Timberlake is also there. He narrates the movie and does this dance number:
Everything else you can get from Wikipedia (except for the aspirin you'll need after reading it) but trust me, it wouldn't help if you did. There's no amount of world-building or background information that can prepare you for The Rock telling Seann William Scott's character, "So I'm fucking this chick last night and right when I'm about to cum, I puke on her tits." Likewise, there's no amount of explanation into the geopolitical landscape of this universe which justifies Seann William Scott responding with "it happens." (Then again, I'm sure there's someone, somewhere who'll respond with, "Well, actually, the slowing rotation of the earth causes tit puking to be more common because ...")
But all of that stuff is in the original. The Cannes cut expands on all the questions nobody asked for like, "What is the hierarchy in the neo-Marxist movement?" (still unclear, but Amy Poehler's character is definitely not on top) and "When Officer Bookman asks Zora 'Do you wanna fuck or watch TV?' do they actually fuck or do they watch TV?" (They do neither. Zora says, "Watch TV," and Bookman gets so mad that he picks up debris from a giant toilet and starts throwing it against the floor.) It also gives us a reimagined ending with so much more kissing between characters who seemingly were never involved with each other.
All of this is to say that the Southland Tales Cannes cut is an incredible watch. It takes such big and deliberate swings that it deserves to be seen with the full scope of the author's original intent, even if that intent was wildly misguided. In a way, it's a lot like the anti-Snyder cut. (Or just the Snyder cut if the Snyder cut bombs.) It is the long-anticipated release of a movie finally allowed to reach its fullest potential. In this case, that potential is awfulness, but I'd rather see a director give it their all and fail spectacularly than watch the product of something neutered for a widespread audience.
Top Image: Sony Pictures