(CBS/AP) "Rust and Bone," the highly anticipated love story starring Academy Award-winning French actress Marion Cotillard and Belgium's Matthias Schoenaerts, premiered Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival.
But, the film, which features poverty, bare-knuckle fighting and a killer whale attack, divided its first audience of journalists at the festival.
"Pretty terrible and rambling in all," tweeted Time Out critic Dave Calhoun
"Enthralling and moving," said The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw.
The film's director, Jacques Audiard, won the festival's second prize in 2009 with taut prison drama "A Prophet." He said "Rust and Bone" was his attempt to do something completely different.
"['A Prophet'] was very male. It took place in prison, the area was very confined and there were no women," Audiard told reporters. "We wanted to portray a love story full of light and space, and this is what happened."
Schoenaerts' character Ali is a brawny, inarticulate single father struggling to support himself and his 5-year-old son. Cotillard plays Stephanie, a killer whale trainer at Marineland who suffers a devastating accident at work. The two form an unlikely alliance that is tested by events and by their own characters.
Both lead actors are asked to bare all - physically and emotionally - and to take their characters on journeys whose twists may test the patience of some viewers.
"On the whole, when I read a script ... I immediately understand the character," Cotillard told journalists at the festival Thursday. "With Stephanie, I reached the end of the script and I still didn't know who she was. I said to Jacques, I'm a bit scared, I don't know how this is going to work. And he said, `I don't know either."'
Schoenaerts admitted to being intimidated by his co-star, whom he called "an exceptional actress."
"I thought, there's Jacques, there's Marion, I'm never going to manage," Schoenaerts said. "I'll be useless."
The Belgian actor's combination of muscular physique and charm - combined with his turn in the Oscar-nominated cattle-crime drama "Bullhead" - have led some to predict Hollywood will adopt him as its next European action star.
"There's a lot of stuff moving and I'm excited," he said. "But I'm not in a rush."