The famously fickle Cannes audiences greeted Ryan Gosling’s latest film, Only God Forgives, with boos, meanwhile Hollywood veteran Robert Redford received a standing ovation for his drama All is Lost.

Only God Forgives is Canadian actor Gosling’s latest collaboration with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. The pair brought Drive to Cannes in 2011 and won universal acclaim for the crime heist thriller. It also garnered best-director honours for Refn.

However, their latest movie, starring Gosling as a drug-smuggler in Bangkok pressured by his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) to avenge his brother's death, has polarized critics at Cannes with its violence. A brutal scene involving eye and ear mutilation had audiences squirming, while another in which a man puts his hand in a woman’s body drew boos.

Gosling directing in Detroit

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Ryan Gosling, a no-show at Cannes, is in Detroit shooting his directorial debut How to Catch a Monster. (Associated Press)

Gosling himself did not attend the premiere as he is currently working on How to Catch a Monsterhis directorial debut. During a press conference on Wednesday, Cannes director Thierry Frémaux read aloud a letter from Gosling apologizing for missing the French festival.

"Can't believe I'm not in Cannes. I was hoping to come, but I'm on week three shooting my film in Detroit," Gosling wrote.

"Miss you all. Nicolas, my friend, we really are the same person in different dimensions. I'm sending you good vibrations."

Though the star of Only God Forgives, Gosling is almost silent in his role as the bullied son. Scott Thomas plays against type as an overbearing, conniving mother.

"A lot of the stuff that I had to do as Crystal was exciting and frightening at the same time," Scott Thomas told reporters on Wednesday.

"It made this whole project one of terror and at the same time totally thrilling."

Cruel, difficult character

The English-French actress said playing the cruel, difficult character was unnerving and quipped that she would seek a comedy for her next film.

However, Refn defended the violence in the film. "The enemy of creativity is good taste," he said. 

Known for working collaboratively with actors, he praised Scott Thomas for her villainous, much-praised performance.

"Most of the time, we'd just sit and stare and go, 'Oh my god! What have we unleashed?'" Refn noted.

"It was what the film needed, the film needed a character like that that would essentially be the antagonist of the protagonist. But she would be so dominating that you could never live up to her, you could never penetrate her."

While critics differed in their assessment of Only God Forgives, they embraced Redford's latest project All is Lost, which is screening at Cannes out of competition.

In it, Redford portrays a sailor lost at sea in the largely speech-free production, giving a performance the Guardian has hailed a "tour de force." American director J.C. Chandor and Redford worked together for nearly three months in Mexico shooting the film about a man battling the elements.  

The 66th Cannes Film Festival ends Sunday with the presentation of its competition awards.