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CANNES, France (Reuters) - Hollywood darling Ryan Gosling gets spattered in blood and fuel in Danish film noir "Drive," delighting Cannes critics who whooped at the film's odd blend of Hollywood dazzle and deadpan Nordic humour.
The Canadian actor, known for his roles in "The Notebook" and "Lars and the Real Girl," plays a single-minded stunt car driver who falls in love with a neighbor and gets embroiled in a gory killing fest to protect her from mafia tormentors.
Almost entirely silent throughout the film, Gosling never varies in his devotion to his love interest -- played by British actress Carey Mulligan -- or loses his sang-froid when racing down Los Angeles freeways to a pumping 1980s synth-pop score.
Highly stylized and peppered with profanity, "Drive" rolls out scene upon scene of comic gore, prompting an audience to laugh and clap as Gosling's character stomps a villain's head to a messy pulp in an elevator seconds after a passionate kiss with Mulligan in the same confined space.
The result is a bizarre concoction, with eerie aspects reminiscent of David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive," moments that recall Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" and angst-laden love scenes that would not be out of place in a Scandinavian drama.
"The movie is about a man who drives around Los Angeles at night listening to pop music," Gosling told a press conference. "We also got the idea that the driver shouldn't be talking."
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, 40, known for genre movies like the crime trilogy "Pusher," said inspiration came from literature -- a 2005 book of the same name by James Sallis -- music, and the scenery of Los Angeles at night.
Refn, who emigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1981, showed little sympathy for his compatriot Lars Von Trier, who was expelled from the festival on Thursday after jokingly saying that he sympathized with Hitler.
"I think what Lars said was very unacceptable and I will not comment on his movie because I haven't seen it," Refn said.
The expulsion of Von Trier, whose film "Melancholia" is still in competition and could technically win the Palme d'Or prize for best movie, cast a shadow over the festival, which is usually a haven for art-house films and provocative directors.
In interviews since his expulsion, Von Trier explained the insensitivity he displayed during his rambling monologue about Jews and Nazis was a consequence of being Danish. Refn echoed Von Trier's reference to blunt Danish culture.
"It just shows that in Denmark we have a very small mentality and sometimes forget that there are other people around us," he said, before responding to another journalist's question with a muttered "What is it with the Danes?"
Refn's film garnered some enthusiastic early reviews from critics at Cannes, with Xan Brooks at Britain's Guardian newspaper giving it four out of five stars with the caveat that it "can't win, won't win" the festival's top prize.
Editing by Paul Casciato