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CANNES, France (Reuters) - The neon-lit streets of Tokyo and the corridors of the Louvre museum in Paris provide the setting for a trio of stylized East-meets-West films that caused audience walk-outs as the Cannes festival ended.
Gaspar Noe's "Enter the Void," a drug-fueled trip to the afterlife, and Isabel Coixet's romantically charged "Map of the Sounds of Tokyo," both confront out-of-place Westerners in the Japanese capital with death and the meaning of existence.
"Visage," by Tsai Ming-Liang, travels in the other direction, bringing a Taiwanese director to Paris where he tries to film the story of Salome in the Louvre using a cast that recalls some of the great moments of French cinema.
All three favor striking visual imagery over conventional plot or characterization but the steady stream of viewers walking out of all of the press screenings testified to the difficulty many had in keeping up.
"I make my films rather like a painter. It's the image which is extremely important to me," Tsai told a news conference after the screening. "All my efforts are directed toward how I can present my scenes in terms of images."
The curtain comes down on the festival on Sunday with the award of the Palme d'Or for the best film but, judging by the audience and early critical reaction, none of the three films shown on Friday and Saturday seemed likely to win.
The presence in "Visage" of Jean-Pierre Leaud, who lit up Cannes 50 years ago as the teenaged star of Francois Truffaut's "Les 400 Coups" and Jeanne Moreau, star of another Truffaut classic, "Jules et Jim," underlined Tsai's homage to French films.
With Hong Kong director Johnnie To using French rock singer Johnny Hallyday as the star of his Macau-based revenge thriller "Vengeance," the meeting between European and Asian film has been a feature of the festival.
"What is new and distinctively different this year is it's no longer a question of 'them and us' (Asian and Western cinema). There is no longer a clear line between Western and Asian cinema," said film critic and author Mark Cousins.
The lush imagery characteristic of much recent Asian cinema has been fully incorporated and critics who enjoyed the films, such as those writing for the French newspaper Liberation, concentrated on that aspect.
French director Noe, whose "Irreversible" caused a scandal in 2002 with a shocking rape scene, adopts the perspective of a dead American drug dealer whose lost soul floats above the glittering Tokyo streets.
Swooping woozily around, the point of view eventually enters a woman's body as an act of sexual intercourse occurs, a scene that prompted laughter and ironic applause at the first screening attended by the director.
Spanish director Coixet, one of three women in the main competition, takes a more conventional narrative approach although she too makes great play with the Tokyo scenery.
Her story of a beautiful fish market worker who doubles as a hired killer and falls in love with the Spanish wine merchant she is supposed to assassinate, also elicited a lukewarm response from many in the audience.
Editing by Andrew Dobbie