CANNES, France (REUTERS) - The Sea Of Trees, Gus van Sant's metaphysical tale set in Japan's "suicide forest", got a harsh reception from the critics at the Cannes Film Festival, but the Palme d'Or winner seemed unperturbed by the few boos that greeted his latest oeuvre after Friday's press screening.
In The Sea Of Trees, an American, played by Matthew McConaughey, travels to Japan to enter the Aokigahara forest and kill himself after his wife's (Naomi Watts) death.
There he meets a Japanese (Ken Watanabe) and both start a journey of self-reflection and survival.
"It's an isolation to get to salvation, how facing death helps you find life," McConaughey told a news conference on Saturday.
The effort was dubbed a "dishonest tear-jerker" by The Guardian, and Variety called it a "risibly long-winded drama".
Van Sant, who won the Palme d'Or with Elephant in 2003, did not appear too concerned.
Academy Award winner McConaughey put on a relaxed face, too, telling a news conference ahead of Saturday's public premiere: "Anyone has as much right to boo as they do to ovate."
Van Sant said: "I read one review this morning and it was very definitive. I was imagining everyone was the same person as the one who wrote it and I was like now I know where we stand - it was kind of nice but then I got nervous later."
Elephant also had a mixed reception from the press before winning the highest distinction.
"I remember... there was some kind of fight after Elephant's screening, there was a fisticuffs about whether it was good or bad," said Van Sant.
"They were punching each other and that was at Cannes."
Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions has acquired US rights to The Sea Of Trees, an opus that is more reminiscent of Van Sant's Gerry than his more acclaimed Good Will Hunting, or Milk, before the Cannes Festival.