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Cronenberg film looks at violence in US

September 12, 2005

By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) – Director David Cronenberg, famous for
such creepy art-house fare as “The Fly,” “Dead Ringers,” and
“Naked Lunch,” has taken on more conventional subject matter
with his latest film, heading to small-town America with “A
History of Violence.”

But the Canadian-born Cronenberg — promoting the film’s
North American premiere this weekend at the Toronto
International Film Festival — isn’t eager to hear suggestions
that he’s going mainstream.

As he sees it, the film’s conventional trimmings are merely
a canvas for a close-in look at violence and identity, designed
to have the same unsettling impact on audiences as the
exploding heads, acid-spitting man-insects and car crash
sex-addicts of his earlier offerings.

Rather than focusing on gore and bizarre characters, the
director uses straight-on violence and dramatic timing to
subvert the viewers’s expectations.

“It’s not a politically correct movie. There’s laughs in
the middle of the violence, there’s laughs in the sex, there’s
laughs in moments that are truly nasty,” the 62-year-old
director said as he sipped tea to sooth a nagging sore throat.

“It’s quite a complex movie, because slipping on a banana
peel is pretty violent for the guy who slips. It’s a laugh for
everybody else.”

CULT FOLLOWING, MIXED SUCCESS

Since first startling audiences 30 years ago with “Shivers”
– in which high-rise apartment dwellers are turned into
zombies by parasites — Cronenberg has enjoyed a loyal cult
following, mixed box-office success, and even more varied
critical reaction.

But “Violence” has been enjoying applause from critics and
cheers and gasps from the audience for its depiction of a
small-town diner owner forced to take brutal action to stop an
attempted robbery.

Cronenberg enjoyed a $32 million budget for the picture,
his biggest ever, but hardly a king’s ransom in an industry
that now regularly churns out $100 million productions.

The film stars Viggo Mortensen — fresh from his turn as
Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy — as Tom Stall, a
family man who finds himself in a kill-or-be-killed situation
when two men try to rob his restaurant.

Tom’s actions make him a local hero, attracting a
Philadelphia mobster, played by Ed Harris, who accuses Tom of
being someone else — the thug who took out his eye.

“To me, this is not new territory at all. What’s different
is that the characters in this movie are not my usual kind of
characters. I usually start with very eccentric, very extreme
characters, very obsessive, maybe on the margins of society,”
said Cronenberg.

“This movie’s like the inverse of that. We’re starting with
characters that are very familiar. I bring you into the movie,
then I take you and the family to some dark, strange place that
you didn’t think you were going to go.”

Showing the film at the festival represents a homecoming
for the Toronto-born Cronenberg, who says he’s not disappointed
it did not win the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival
earlier this year.

“It’s fantastic here. We made it here, and a lot of my crew
are here,” he said.

“(Toronto) is the screening that counts.”




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