VENICE • Mel Gibson called his relationship with Hollywood "survival" as he prepared for the Venice Film Festival premiere of a war drama that marks his directorial comeback, after a turbulent decade in his personal life.
The Oscar winner's troubled years began in 2006, when he was arrested for drink driving and responded with an anti-Semitic tirade. That led to headlines around the world, tarnished his reputation and set back a remarkable career that had made him one of Hollywood's highest paid actors, directors and producers.
But in Venice last Saturday, the 60-year-old premiered Hacksaw Ridge, a gripping war epic about a pacifist during World War II that cannot but move.
The film tells the true story of Desmond Doss, an army medic who refused to bear arms on moral grounds. Despite being a conscientious objector, he later received the Medal of Honour for saving 75 comrades.
The movie is screening in the out- of-competition section in Venice. It starts with a love story set in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains and eventually moves to the Battle of Okinawa, where Doss - played by Andrew Garfield of Spider-Man fame - must find his way among butchered corpses, scattered limbs and intestines to bring his comrades back to safety.
"It's a man in the worst situation possible, in the midst of hell on earth, and he goes into that struggle armed with nothing than faith and conviction, and he sticks by those things and does something extraordinary... that inspired me," Gibson told a press conference.
He said he hoped the movie would result in more attention being paid to veterans returning from conflict. "When they come back, they need some love, they need some understanding," he said.
He compared Doss' bravery with that of comic-book characters such as Garfield's Spider-Man, saying: "Desmond attributed his actions to a power greater than himself and the difference between a real superhero and a comic-book superhero is that real superheroes didn't wear any Spandex."
His Academy Award-winning Braveheart (1995) was famed for its bloody battle scenes, but in the film, Gibson has taken the blowing- off of legs and slicing-through of guts to an operatic level.
"The important thing with battle and depicting it on screen is to give the impression of chaos and confusion, but to be absolutely clear what you want the audience to see," he said.
"It's all about screen direction and knowing where the players are, you almost have to approach it as a sporting event. If you then put characters into that situation that you have actually come to care for, it takes it up a level."
He referred to the difficulties his career has met since 2006, after he shot Apocalypto. Describing his relationship with Hollywood as "survival", he said: "Sometimes you take a big step backwards, I've done it... For one reason or another, maybe it's where you are in your life."
Garfield said the late Doss was a difficult character to live up to.
He said he was drawn to what Doss embodied, especially at a time filled with violent uprisings and people defending ideologies.
"Desmond is a wonderful symbol of the idea of living and letting live no matter what your ideology is, no matter what your value system is," he said.
The Spider-Man star said portraying a human hero inspired more than a fictional one and drew parallels between Doss and his own brother, also a doctor.
"He doesn't get to do press conferences, patted on the back, applauded... he's raising three beautiful kids, he's taking care of his wife, he's serving patients and also staying three hours late after work. This is heroics," he said.
Asked about working with Gibson, he said he was "like a good dad on set or a good mom, with that kind of wonderful nurturing instinct where you feel like you can do no wrong even when you're already doing a lot of wrong".
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE