(Corrects movie title in fifth paragraph to 'Only God Forgives')
* Burning buildings, severed lips in "Lost River"
* Gosling's film has surreal, sinister feel
By Alexandria Sage
CANNES, France, May 20 Hollywood actor Ryan Gosling burned up the screen at the Cannes film festival with his directorial debut on Tuesday, but critics' reaction was a damp squib.
Gosling's "Lost River", which was to premiere at Cannes on Tuesday night, includes enough images of blazing buildings to satisfy the most ardent pyromaniac.
But early comments posted on Twitter following an advance press screening were overwhelmingly caustic. Tim Robey of Britain's Daily Telegraph called the film - set in a near-deserted community pockmarked by scorched houses - a "crapocalypse."
Gosling's movie, which he also wrote, is one of 19 to compete in the "Un Certain Regard" category for emerging directors at the prestigious festival on the French Riviera.
The Hollywood heartthrob has been a frequent visitor to Cannes as an actor, most recently accompanying two Nicolas Winding Refn films - the bloody slasher set in Bangkok, "Only God Forgives", and pulp thriller "Drive".
The influence of Winding Refn - who this year is a jury member in the festival's main competition - was palpable, said critics.
A young man named Bones (Iain De Caestecker), along with his mother (Christina Hendricks) and little brother, are practically the only family left that hasn't yet cleared out of the community, visibly hit by tough times.
When their home is scheduled for demolition due to a mortgage debt, Bones strips abandoned houses for copper wiring to sell and his mother starts working at an underground fetish club where a cabaret show features women being slashed and stabbed.
While Gosling appears at first glance to be interested in themes such as attachment to home, or mortgage-lender greed, the movie is sidetracked by its surreal and sinister elements, reminiscent of David Lynch but without the psychological punch.
Neither the mysterious mute grandmother who sits and watches old home movies in the dark in full makeup and black veil, nor the discovery of a town submerged underwater, make much sense. A violent sexual encounter between the mother and her new boss feels purely gratuitous.
As if the community doesn't have enough problems already, a foul-mouthed, street-wise character named Bully (Matt Smith) rides around in his white convertible, bragging through a loudspeaker that "I own this city". Those who don't obey find their lips cut off with scissors.
Spewing blood, a severed rat head, and bikes and buildings burning in slow motion impart a nightmarish feel as heavy, brooding music substitutes for dramatic tension.
"The ultimate student film, made by industry pros," wrote Twitch Film in a tweet. (Editing by Mark Trevelyan)