My Bunny Valentine

Vincent Gallo at Cannes: A Blow-by-Blow Account

 CANNES, FRANCE—Every Cannes needs a scandal, and this year's overblown press reaction came at the screening of Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny, by far the most daring film in the festival's dismal competition lineup. "The most beautiful way I see the world is when I see deer and bunny," renaissance perfectionist Gallo remarked at the press conference for Bunny, which he wrote, directed, produced, photographed, edited, and stars in. "When I see bunnies on the golf course, or in the backyard, I feel that's a safe place. I'm in love with those animals, even in a carnivorous way. They're my favorite meat."

In this elephantine Cannes, dogs, butterflies, lamb chops, and poisonous jellyfish roamed the competition, but Gallo's sophomore film—which he wrote before Buffalo '66—proved to be what the starving Americans needed. Hungry to justify their presence as traditional gatekeepers at a festival riddled with "irrelevant" art films, they squirted ketchup at Gallo's lapin brun, a one-man operation that dared to shun commercialism. (The film finds Gallo driving alone for 100 minutes, then forcing a torturous blowjob on Chloë Sevigny.) Roger Ebert proclaimed Gallo's "universally derided" film "the worst ever in competition." As with many Americans, his universe doesn't include France. (Libération wittily called the U.S. reaction an "erection of criticism.")

Perhaps Ebert likes his bunny juicy, not skin and bones. Gallo's conceptual psycho anti-drama, which merges the road movie with the relationship breakup picture, offers no concessions. It's the honest emanation of a pathologically uncompromising, deeply sensitive personality; its narcissism stems more from a paranoid distrust of others than an overweening egotism. "The question is not how did I do it all myself," goes a typical Galloism (he claims he worked with a crew of two). "It's, How did I put up with the incompetence of the people I had to work with?"

"Just look at yourself having sex": Gallo and Sevigny suck face in The Brown Bunny.
photo: Cannes Film Festival
"Just look at yourself having sex": Gallo and Sevigny suck face in The Brown Bunny.

Gallo tends to extremes. He called Sevigny's courageous performance "the best I've ever seen." He explained, "The most beautiful thing to me in the world is a geography that's unlivable to humans." Securing the rights to the film's songs was "the most fearful experience of my whole life." The reaction at the Cannes gala left him with "the worst feeling that I've ever had."

A day later, the severely depressed director spent an hour with a wary cadre of international journalists. "Let me tell you something," Gallo said. "I didn't want to do the press conference yesterday. Anytime I talk, I talk without thinking. I have no press agent, no manager, no friend, no assistant. I tell everyone the most private details of my life, all the things the press complains they don't get from other actors. And who the fuck do they punish the most? Me. Isn't that beautiful?"

He continued: "My problem is that what I think is beautiful doesn't match up to what the general population thinks is beautiful. That's why I can't give a birthday gift. What I do know is I worked very hard on the film; I love the film very much or I never would have finished it." I told him Le Monde and Libération raved. "Did they?" Gallo asked, surprised. "That almost adds salt on the wound."

Discussion turned to the film itself. He'd always wanted to work with Sevigny (he met her long ago and thought, "Wow, this is the prettiest girl in the whole world"). Even if it's non-autobiographical, the film reveals Gallo's fixations, and takes its curious form from Gallo's minimalist idea of beauty. "I've had a specific aesthetic point of view, always. My bedroom at five years old was arranged exactly like the motel room in The Brown Bunny."

When pressed about Warhol, an obvious reference point (The Brown Bunny is about one really lonesome cowboy and ends with a long blowjob), Gallo shook his head. "Talking about Warhol embarrasses me. I was never interested in his art. I like the Italian futurists like Balla. I like Duchamp and minimalists like Robert Ryman. If you want to know the truth, the film is like a Robert Ryman painting."

Its hushed minimalism also shares qualities with Gallo's CDs on Warp Records. All the film's songs, like Gordon Lightfoot's "Beautiful," were heard when Gallo took one of his many drives across America. "One of the greatest things about driving across the country is that you go through six days, and you only remember one song that's symbolic for the whole trip. When I made the film I tried to maintain my open mind, going along roads I wasn't familiar with, but I was looking for things that were in my memory, a certain sunset, a color, a memory of a desert."

Despite their professed boredom, few fled the press screening, as they were awaiting the blowjob that, rumor had it, would last eight minutes. (It clocked in at three.) And still they complained, branding Gallo a shallow provocateur. "I didn't include the sex scene to be controversial. I included it because I'm interested in the subject matter. It's a very complex scene. You never see how people actually look when in deep intimacy in contrast to what's happening emotionally, or see how people act out dark pathologies. Just look at yourself having sex and that visual image will have a lot of impact on you."

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