The most hotly anticipated contender in the Cannes race, "Crimes of the Future" by sci-fi shockmeister David Cronenberg, divided the festival on Tuesday after drawing a lengthy standing ovation as well as dozens of disgusted walkouts.
The dystopian tale about the future of sex starring Kristen Stewart, Lea Seydoux and long-time collaborator Viggo Mortensen sent many queasy viewers running for the exits, even as the red-carpet premiere brought the audience to its feet for a full seven minutes.
The movie is set in a wasteland in which industry has collapsed, the state seeks total domination over human bodies and people look for erotic satisfaction that goes far more than skin-deep.
The Canadian film-maker, 79, behind body horror classics including "The Fly", "Dead Ringers" and "eXistenZ", said that while he didn't intend the film to be overtly political, its commentary on issues such as the threat to abortion rights in the United States was clear.
"It's a constant in history that there's some government that wants to control its population" with "oppressive ownership" of bodies, he told reporters.
"In Canada, we think everybody in the US is completely insane," he said bluntly about the political battle over abortion.
"We think the US has gone completely bananas, we can't believe elected officials are saying the things they're saying, not just about Roe v Wade. It is strange times."
'Surgery is new sex'
Seydoux, known internationally from the James Bond franchise, plays alongside Mortensen as performance artists learning to adapt to a world in which human beings can harness control over their own biological mutation.
The high-concept plot sees Mortensen's character Saul willing new internal organs into being in his own body as part of a drive to accelerate his own evolution.
His partner Caprice (Seydoux) has developed techniques that allow her to carve into his body without hurting him to reveal to audiences his "inner beauty" -- new body parts with elaborate tattoo work.
Stewart plays Timlin, an investigator from the National Organ Registry charged with policing the limits of the new human frontier.
Stewart, who garnered her first Oscar nomination this year for her portrayal of Princess Diana in "Spencer", admitted that elements of the complex story remained a mystery to her and the cast even after shooting began.
But she told reporters the eye-watering graphic operation scenes captured "really visceral desire -- that's the only reason we're alive".
"It's fun to talk about people walking out of Cannes screenings," she said.
But "every single gaping, bleeding, sort of pulsing, weird image, every bit of hurt, every bruise in this movie... you want to lean towards it, it never repulses me ever".
Mortensen, 63, told AFP that his fourth picture with Cronenberg after hits such as "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises" was a wholly original kind of romance.
"We have a friendship above all and a trust and this trust makes it comfortable to try things that are unusual that I might not so easily try for other directors," the "Lord of the Rings" star said.
"I think his movies are generally ahead of their time."
"Crimes of the Future" is one of 21 films vying for Cannes' Palme d'Or top prize, to be awarded on Saturday.
Initial reviews were positive, with US movie website IndieWire saying it was "nowhere near as gross as advertised, but it's so much sweeter than anticipated... it grows on/in you like an unregistered organ".
The Hollywood Reporter said it marked "Cronenberg's return to the freakier end of his sci-fi and body-horror spectrum" -- it "won't be for everyone but definitely demands to be seen".
© 2022 AFP