Canadian director David Cronenberg returns to the 75th Cannes film festival with a new offering ‘Crimes of the Future’ starring his longtime collaborator Viggo Mortensen, along with Kristen Stewart and Lea Seydoux

The movie focuses on Saul, Mortensen’s character, who’s willing for new organs to be inserted into his body as part of a heightened experience. 

Speaking ahead of the film’s premiere, the 79-year-old director said “Body is reality — that’s always been my mantra in one way or another”, adding, “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”, Agence France-Presse reported. 

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Once the movie was screened, it earned a seven-minute standing ovation, but not before Cannes again witnessed walkouts at halftime, unable to take in Cronenberg’s return to body horror. 

After the applause, the director said “I’m very touched by your response”, adding, “I hope you’re not kidding, I hope you mean it.” During the press screening, only five people left the theatre, but the reception wasn’t as warm, Variety reported. 

The director, whose oeuvre includes movies like ‘The Fly’, ‘eXistenZ’, and ‘Crash’ is a master of the genre. Body horror focuses on scares that arise out of concerns regarding the human body, mostly about it being altered or mutilated in a way that is not normal. 

In Cronenberg’s latest, Seydoux plays the role of Caprice, Saul’s partner, who carves into his body and reveals his inner beauty to viewers – that is – tattooed body parts. 

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“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 noted, adding “It’s just not what you normally expect from sexuality.” 

Cronenberg’s films – especially the works pertaining to body horror – have viewed sex non conventionally. Take for example ‘Crash’, the 1996 James Spader movie, where a TV director gets into an automobile accident and discovers an underground subculture where people use the danger of car crashes as an erotic factor spurring acts of sex. As Vaughan, a character in the movie notes “The car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event.” 

However, the controversial JG Ballard novel adaptation was greeted by boos and walkouts when it had been screened at the Cannes. ‘Crash’ went on to win the Special Jury Prize that year, but Francis Ford Coppola of ‘Godfather‘ fame, who was the Cannes jury president, “abstained very passionately” against the decision.

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Reflecting on the incident years later, Cronenberg had noted to the Canadian Press, “Coppola was totally against it. I think he was the primary one. When I’m asked why [‘Crash’] got this Special Jury Award, well, I think it was the jury’s attempt to get around the Coppola negativity, because they had the power to create their own award without the president’s approval. And that’s how they did it, but it was Coppola who was certainly against it.” 

Cronenberg’s film left a lasting distaste with Coppola, and the Canadian referred to this, saying, “The strange thing is that I’ve run into him several times at various festivals. Always the first thing he says is: ‘Remember, we gave you this award.’ I swore to myself that the next time he said that, I was going to remind him that he was not amongst those who wanted to give (“Crash”) a prize. In fact, during the final closing night ceremony, he wouldn’t hand me the award. He had someone else hand it to me. He wouldn’t do it himself”. 

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Ahead of ‘Crimes of the Future’ being screened, Cronenberg had said “The audience in Cannes is a very strange audience. It’s not a normal audience. A lot of people are there just for the prestige or for the red carpet. And they’re not cinephiles. They don’t know my films. So they might be walkouts, whereas a normal audience would have no problem with the movie. So who knows?”, adding that a lot of people had walked out during ‘Crash’. 

However, speaking after ‘Crimes of the Future’ premiered, Cronenberg noted that the surgery scenes weren’t intended to scare off people, but he enjoyed sparking a scandal. 

The director recalled the ‘Crash’ screening again, saying “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'”.

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He jokingly concluded, “Now the seats don’t make a noise — they changed them in the cinema. It’s very disappointing”. 

Though Cronenberg has always polarized viewers with his works, the 63-year-old Mortensen, who’s worked on the director’s other projects like ‘A History of Violence’ and ‘Eastern Promises’, noted that the Canadian’s films are “generally ahead of their time”, which is why they spark such extreme reactions.