Cannes continues to be a mixed bag for Canadian filmmakers, with veteran David Cronenberg earning some kudos for his scathing Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars while actor Ryan Gosling received boos for his directorial debut Lost River.
As he unveiled his latest at the French film fest over the weekend, Cronenberg told reporters that Maps to the Stars serves as a commentary on Hollywood as well as other cultures (like Silicon Valley or Wall Street) "where people are desperate, ambitious, greedy, pitiful."
The shocking and darkly comic tale (based on Bruce Wagner's novel and screenplay) weaves incest, murder and serious family dysfunction into stories of Hollywood celebrity life, populated with familiar figures such as an out-of-control child star battling addiction, an aging actress hoping to revive her struggling career and a limo driver/aspiring actor-screenwriter.
It won high praise from some critics for its scandalous nature ("It's certainly the director's most twisted, and as a consequence, most deliciously entertaining film, in quite a long while," raved Indie Wire), but others noted that the film's clear cynicism and broadsides of the Hollywood movie industry could turn North American audiences off and might potentially prove divisive.
"In the end, it is too extravagantly cynical to be entirely truthful about Hollywood and LA, but it has a Jacobean power," declared The Guardian.
The ensemble film features a star-studded cast that includes Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, Sarah Gadon and Robert Pattison.
Twilight star Pattison, who previously starred in Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, said he accepted his limo driver role in Maps to the Stars without having even read the script.
"It's always an extremely exciting thing" to be part of Cronenberg's world," he told reporters at the Maps to the Stars press conference in Cannes.
Meanwhile, popular actor Gosling drew a short bit of applause, but largely boos and critical pans on Tuesday for Lost River, his first attempt at directing.
A packed crowd took in the first Cannes screening of Lost River, which Gosling also wrote and co-produced.
Set in a ruined Detroit and revolving around a single mother with two sons, the lurid and surreal modern fairy tale stars Mad Men's Christina Hendricks and Matt Smith (Doctor Who).
Some praised the film's bold, vivid scenes and Gosling's ambitious attempt to tell an unconventional story. However, many slammed the movie for being derivative of other filmmakers Gosling obviously admires, including David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn (for whom he starred in Drive and Only God Forgives).
"Had Terrence Malick and David Lynch somehow conceived an artistic love-child together, only to see it get kidnapped, strangled and repeatedly kicked in the face by Nicolas Winding Refn, the results might look and sound something like Lost River, a risible slab of Detroit gothic that marks an altogether inauspicious writing-directing debut for Ryan Gosling," wrote the reviewer for industry paper Variety.
The Telegraph's critic said that ideas and images drawn from filmmakers Gosling admires "aren’t developed, they’re simply reproduced: think Wikipedia essay rather than love letter. The result is cinema you don’t watch so much as absent-mindedly scroll through."
While Gosling's Lost River is screening as part of the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes (which celebrates "original and different" works by up-and-coming filmmakers), Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars is vying in the festival's main competition lineup for the coveted Palme d'Or trophy (along with Xavier Dolan's Mommy and Atom Egoyan The Captive.
The Cannes Film Festival continues through May 25.