Scarlett Johansson Was ‘Almost in Tears’ When ‘Under the Skin’ Was Booed in Venice, Says Festival Director

The appeal of cinema lies in its control to bring out feelings and incite responses that wait distant past the credits. A decade back, at the famous Venice Worldwide Film Celebration, Scarlett Johansson experienced a rollercoaster of feelings when her film “Beneath the Skin” experienced an startling reaction from the group of onlookers.

As the 2023 version of the celebration commences, Alberto Barbera, the aesthetic executive, affectionately recalls past minutes that cleared out an permanent stamp. He reminisces about a poignant episode from a decade back when Scarlett Johansson, then 38, found herself on the precipice of tears due to the reception of “Under the Skin.” The film’s screening had taken an unexpected turn as boos resonated through the theater.

“It was one of the worst screenings I’ve attended. It was the only time the audience booed a film. Scarlett was almost in tears,” reveals Barbera. In that disheartening moment, he reached out to console her, predicting that the film’s true worth would eventually be recognized—an insight that would prove prophetic.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, “Under the Skin” casts Johansson as an otherworldly being navigating the human realm in search of her prey. The film’s distinctive scenes blend scripted moments with Johansson’s unscripted interactions with unsuspecting civilians, captured through a concealed camera. The result may be a cinematic creation that opposes traditions and takes off an permanent engrave on the viewer’s mind.

Reflecting back on that critical screening, Johansson concedes to feeling a blend of feelings. “It was the primary time I had seen the film with an gathering of people and the primary time I saw the film wrapped up. And I was on this tremendous mezzanine so I felt super-exposed,” she reviews. The clashing orchestra of cheers and boos that resounded when the lights came on cleared out her in a state of bewilderment. “I think I was fair … I wouldn’t say aggravated but I was sort of stunned,” she concedes.

Interests, Glazer’s reaction was one of rapture. “Absolutely thrilled,” as Johansson puts it. His perspective on the contrasting reactions was refreshingly unique: “That was the best reaction! That was the most amazing sound I’ve ever heard in my life.”

In the aftermath, Johansson’s musings on the Venice Film Festival screening highlight the film’s essence: engagement. “When we had the screening in Venice, people were cheering and people were booing, people were speechless, people were vocal, and it was mad,” she recounts. Yet, amidst the diverse spectrum of reactions, the underlying success lay in capturing the audience’s attention, sparking discussion, and leaving an unforgettable mark.

For Johansson, film may be a profoundly individual journey—one that sometimes resists simple categorization. The on-screen character clarifies, “When I observe the film, it’s such a individual travel that it’s difficult for me to be able to step outside of it and say ‘this could be a film around the birth of fear’ or ‘love and sex’ or anything.” The film’s themes remain enigmatic and complex, defying neat encapsulation.

“I can’t see any of that because I just sit there paralyzed with fear,” she admits. It’s a vulnerability that resonates with any artist who pours their heart and soul into a creation. Perhaps with time, clarity will emerge, and the mosaic of themes will become discernible. But for now, the enigmatic allure remains intact.

As Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Glazer were asked to distill their creation into a concise description, they faced a challenge that echoes the film’s essence. Their response, a simple “Next,” embodies the complexity, depth, and layered experiences that “Under the Skin” offers.

In the world of cinema, reactions are diverse and subjective. “Under the Skin” reminds us that what truly matters is the lasting impression a film leaves, a sentiment that Scarlett Johansson eloquently sums up: “Personally, as an audience member, I want to have an experience when I see a film and love it, hate it, whatever, I want to still be thinking about it three days later and have the visuals stuck in my mind.” In this, “Under the Skin” undeniably succeeds.