Star Ryan Gosling on Wednesday stayed away from the Cannes premiere of his latest film, the ultra-violent "Only God Forgives", a blood-spattered revenge tale set in Bangkok.
Boos rang out after a press screening of the movie in which Kristin Scott Thomas also stars as a cross between "Lady Macbeth and Donatella Versace", but some critics later praised the film.
"Drive" director Nicolas Winding Refn's film left many in the auditorium wincing or unable to watch, although some lines sparked unintended laughter.
In one scene, Gosling's character Julian tells his crime boss mother (Scott Thomas) that his brother Billy has raped and killed a 16-year-old girl.
"I'm sure he had his reasons," Scott Thomas replies, unrecognisable in long blond wig, fake eyelashes and garish clothes.
Winding Refn's film is one of 20 in the race for the festival's top Palme d'Or prize.
In a letter read out to a news conference, Gosling apologised for missing Wednesday evening's premiere.
The Canadian star is in Detroit in the third week of shooting his directorial debut "How To Catch A Monster".
In another scene, Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm playing an ex-cop on a mission to purge Bangkok of sleaze, pins a man to an armchair with knives and stabs him through the eye.
Even Scott Thomas, better known for playing upper-crust Englishwomen with plummy accents, admitted to queasiness.
Winding Refn, in production notes, says he was keen to see her play a mix of Shakespeare's bloodiest female character and fashion designer Versace.
"This kind of film is really not my thing," Scott Thomas told reporters after the press screening.
"Films where this kind of violence happens I don't enjoy watching."
But she said she decided to get involved in a film she considered "hyper violent and quite disturbing" to work with Winding Refn and "play this wild, savage person".
The trouble really begins to escalate in the movie when Billy's killing of the young prostitute also leads to his own murder.
Scott Thomas's character Crystal then arrives to collect the body of her favourite son and demand that Julian avenge his death.
Dane Winding Refn defended his movie, saying he felt powerless to resist a compulsion to depict violence on screen.
"Art is an act of violence. Art is about penetration. Art is about speaking to our subconscious and our needs at different levels," he said.
The film is his second collaboration with Gosling who starred in the equally blood-soaked "Drive".
The film won Winding Refn the best director prize at Cannes in 2011.
"I don't think about what I do very much. I approach things very much as a pornographer. It's about what arouses me and certain things turn me on more than others and I can't suppress that need," he said.
"But I surely have a fetish for violent emotions, violent images and I just can't explain where it comes from," he added.
A number of other films at the festival including China's "A Touch of Sin" (Tian Zhu Ding) and Japan's "Shield of Straw" (Wara No Tate) have been notable for their violence.
Mexican director Amat Escalante was also forced to defend his film "Heli" after it left many critics feeling ill at ease.
Some critics praised Winding Refn's film but said its violence would be a turn-off for many.
"'Only God Forgives' will, understandably, have people running for the exits," said British daily the Guardian.
"It is very violent, but Winding Refn's bizarre infernal creation, an entire created world of fear, really is gripping," it said.
Entertainment industry magazine Screen meanwhile called it "mesmerisingly moody and stylishly violent".
"While perhaps too bloody to attract substantial mainstream audiences its sheer sense of cinematic control, gripping sound design and its artistic look will find willing viewers," it said.
Winding Refn added in an interview with AFP that the whole point of art was to "combat a sense of unity".
"You're going to experience it one way; someone else is going to experience it another way," he said.
"If everyone agrees if they love or hate it, well then there's nothing but logic."