VENICE (Reuters) - French actress Emmanuelle Beart and the Belgian director of her latest movie have defended "Vinyan," amid concerns that the film which opens with the 2004 tsunami may be insensitive to people affected by the tragedy.
The horror story, which had its premiere at the Venice film festival, stars Beart and Briton Rufus Sewell as a couple who lose their son in the disaster but refuse to believe he is dead.
They embark on a dangerous journey to the jungle of the Thai-Myanmar border to look for him, but stumble across a terrifying world ruled by savage children.
"I don't want to be unpleasant to people who have really suffered from the tsunami," said director Fabrice Du Welz.
"I tried to be as respectful as I can," he told Reuters in an interview on Sunday. "I am, with Vinyan, respectful with people," he added, speaking in English.
"There is no provocation with me. I am really at peace with that. I don't want to shock anyone who suffered from that terrible disaster. There is no footage from the tsunami."
The only direct reference to the disaster is at the start, with a series of underwater shots and muffled sounds.
The remaining narrative follows the desperate and devastated couple several months after the tsunami occurred.
Beart said the tsunami was not the subject of the film.
"The story is that they lost their son," she told Reuters. "It happened in the tsunami but it happens in other ways and elsewhere, so I don't want to justify myself."
Du Welz heard some people were "irritated" by the fact that "Vinyan" dealt with the tsunami. The Times newspaper this week quoted a couple who lost a daughter in the tidal wave as saying that to turn tragedy into entertainment so soon was "outrageous."
The director said he felt that media coverage of the tsunami tended to focus on Western victims more than locals.
"It shocked me the way one life is not equal to one life.
"That's why I tried to tell ... the (story of) that wonderful couple with everything -- beauty, health, money, a career, a beautiful wife, and they lost something, a part of them. And they can't deal with that."
Critics have likened "Vinyan," which drains the jungle of color and light, to "Heart of Darkness," Joseph Conrad's novella about an adventure in the Congo that was adapted for the big screen in Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now."
It also recalls William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," about a group of children stranded on an island.
Du Welz said he was nervous about giving a lead role to an established star like Beart, because his image was of someone who would make impossible demands and Beart might be reluctant to take on the physically challenging role.
Beart said difficult conditions -- driving rain, mud and jungle shooting -- helped her with the part, which was draining both physically and emotionally.
At one point the 45-year-old said she was concerned for Sewell, who appeared to be showing the strain of portraying a father who loses his son and then begins to lose his wife.
"I saw that at one point he was on the edge," she said. "Maybe he wouldn't like me to say it, but I saw it in his eyes."
editing by Tim Pearce