Sci-fi shockmeister David Cronenberg grossed out the Cannes Film Festival Monday with an ultra-creepy take on the future of sex starring Kristen Stewart, Lea Seydoux and long-time collaborator Viggo Mortensen.
Crimes of the Future, which sent many queasy viewers running for the exits, is set in a dystopian world in which people look for erotic satisfaction that goes far more than skin-deep.
The Canadian film-maker, 79, behind body horror classics including The Fly, Crash and eXistenZ said that with shifting notions of meaning in human society, physicality told the truth.
"Body is reality—that's always been my mantra in one way or another," he told a small group of reporters ahead of the film's red-carpet premiere.
"Sexuality is an incredibly important, potent part of life because it always involves politics, culture, science, philosophy. We can't have sex like animals because it's always complicated."
Mortensen is joined by Seydoux, known internationally from recent James Bond films, 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.
"People have said there's no sex in this film but if surgery is the new sex then there's a lot of sex in it," Cronenberg said.
"It's just not what you normally expect from sexuality."
Stewart plays Timlin, an investigator from the National Organ Registry charged with policing the limits of the new human frontier.
She sees the performances as a "new kind of sex" and soon finds herself in a love triangle with the mysterious pair.
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.
He bears his own skin, as well as layers of prostheses, to play a role that touches on excessive exhibitionism in the social media age and the future of an environment drowning in plastic.
The Lord of the Rings star said his long history making movies with Cronenberg freed him up to test his own limits.
"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," Mortensen said.
Asked about the eye-wateringly graphic operation scenes, Cronenberg said that while he wasn't trying to scare off viewers, he did enjoy sparking a scandal, such as with his 1996 Cannes entry Crash about people turned on by taking part in car accidents.
"Many people left the cinema when I showed that movie. One person would leave and it would be 'clack' of the seat and then two people would leave and it would be 'clack clack' and then it would be 'clack clack clack clack clack'," he said.
"Now the seats don't make a noise—they changed them in the cinema. It's very disappointing," he joked.
Mortensen said that while some film-makers were only out for "shock value", Cronenberg had a lot more on his mind.
"There are many directors that provoke but there are very few that can provoke a visceral, immediate reaction but also a long-term intellectual consideration," he 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.