CANNES, France (Reuters) - Jodie Foster's wry look at depression and therapy in "The Beaver" got a warm reception at the Cannes film festival Tuesday, hinting at a possible second life in Europe after it flopped with U.S. audiences.
The film, which stars Mel Gibson in his first major role after a series of scandals tainted his reputation in Hollywood, fell flat on its opening weekend in the United States with ticket sales of just over $100,000.
But an audience of critics at Cannes, where introspective or psychological movies often go down better than elsewhere, laughed loudly several times during a screening and applauded at the end, with one spectator even whooping in delight.
The Beaver, which is not in competition for the Palme d'Or prize for best picture, shifts between comedy and drama as it follows Gibson's character -- a CEO crippled by depression -- through a radical therapy to regain his mental health.
Using a beaver with a British cockney accent as a ventriloquist's hand-puppet, Gibson's character completes a radical about-face in terms of mental health as he revamps his toy company, renews ties with his wife and starts his life anew.
Director Foster defended Gibson as an actor and professional, making light of his personal problems after recordings surfaced of him making an anti-Semitic rant and yelling at his ex-wife.
"He's an outstanding actor: he can do the humorous side and the dark side," said Foster, 48, who has directed four movies including The Beaver. "Most of all he understands that characters struggle... He is somebody who wants to change, who doesn't want to be himself -- that is part of Mel."
Asked what it was like to direct Gibson, whose private life was in turmoil during the shooting, Foster described him as "the least neurotic actor" she had ever worked with and someone willing to reveal himself on-screen.
In the movie, Gibson's character starts out in the depths of clinical depression, drinking himself into a stupor before he tries to hang himself from a shower curtain rod and crashes into the bathtub, wrapped in the curtain.
With its dark subject matter and wry sense of humor, the movie failed to find an audience in the United States, but its producer Keith Redmon said he still held out hope for success in DVD sales and other venues.
"It's not just about the box office -- there are many ways to recoup a film," he said. "We know it will be an issue of time rather than just the first weekend."
Foster skirted the question of money altogether. "I've learned ... that if you gauge your self-worth at the box office, you will be a very sorry person," she said.
Editing by Steve Addison