CANNES (AFP) - Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling served up his hugely-anticipated directorial debut "Lost River" in Cannes Tuesday, a psychedelic fantasy with strong David Lynch echoes that had some critics screaming in pain and others singing his praise.
Journalists jostled with movie-buffs to get into the festival hall's plush movie theatre for what was one of the most eagerly awaited events of the Cannes Film Festival, and many ended up being turned away.
"Dumb-foundingly poor", "a first-rate folie de grandeur", "mesmerising", "impressive"... Critics could not make their mind up over the 33-year-old's sombre, visually-stunning picture set in a decaying American ghost town called Lost River.
"Mad Men" star Christina Hendricks stars as Billy, a single mother-of-two who works at a local striptease joint, desperately trying to make ends meet to keep her rundown, mortgaged home.
She decides to take another, mysterious job touted by her sinister bank manager (Australia's Ben Mendelsohn), and discovers a shady, cabaret underworld where Cat (Eva Mendes) performs gory stunts to the delight of locals.
Meanwhile, her teenage son Bones ("Agents of SHIELD" actor Iain De Caestecker) spends his days tearing copper pipes out of derelict houses to earn some cash.
He grows close to his solitary neighbour Rat, played by rising Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who lives in a ramshackle house with her mute grandmother and tells him about a curse over the town.
The film also stars British actor Matt Smith of "Doctor Who" fame as Bully, a rabid man-about-town who spreads terror in Lost River and likes to cut the lips off those who displease him.
Burning houses, graffiti-laden buildings, flooded streets, smoky corridors and a rousing, oppressive music score throughout...
The film sucks the audience into a surreal world with strong - and perhaps too many - echoes of Lynch and Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, with whom Gosling worked on "Drive" and "Only God Forgives", the ultra-violent film that competed for the top Palme d'Or prize last year and also divided viewers.
"This film is a present from directors I have been lucky to work with over the past few years," Gosling, who also wrote the screenplay, said in production notes.
"As an actor, I went from films deeply anchored in reality by Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine") to the imaginary world of Nicolas Winding Refn."
The film was shot in Detroit, the once-thriving Motor City that has since declared the largest bankruptcy in US history, leaving parts of the city near deserted and in shambles.
Gosling said he had taken his inspiration from the city when he went there to shoot George Clooney's political drama "The Ides of March".
"Even though I spent just a few days there, this city left a deep mark on me," he said.
"There were deserted districts stretching over 60 or so kilometres, and in some of the recesses of these districts, parents were trying to raise their children not far from burnt-down or demolished houses.
"At one time, (Detroit) was a postcard for the American dream, but today, for families in these districts, that dream has morphed into a nightmare," Gosling said.