As the credits rolled on the first Cannes Film Festival screening of Mexican director Carlos Reygadas' new film, someone in the audience shouted out "Viva Bunuel!"

The reference to surrealist cinema icon Luis Bunuel was apt. Reygadas' "Post Tenebras Lux" includes such incongruous elements as the devil, disturbing dream sequences and landscapes that look seethingly alive.

But Reygadas insists he makes "very realistic films."

"We (all) have images of the past, dreams, memories, fantasies, projected futures that mostly doesn't come as we imagine it," he told reporters Thursday.

"I really respect the public very much and that's why I make films in this way."

Reygadas has was won a devoted following with poetic, allusive films such as 2002's "Japon" and "Silent Light," which screened at Cannes in 2007.

His new film centers on an attractive young couple (Adolfo Jimenez Castro and Nathalia Acevedo) and their two adorable children living in a gorgeous house in the woods. But violence — both human and natural — is never far away.

It's a personal project for Reygadas. The house is his own childhood home, and his real-life children play the kids in the movie.

"The film really sprang from my subconscious," the director said.

It is also, in part, an ode to a bleeding earth and a bleeding country. Mexico is wracked by murderous violence, often involving drug gangs who leave the decapitated bodies of their victims on public display.

One of the film's most startling images involves a man literally pulling his own head off.

The director said he chose the image "because the country is suffering and it is a powerful image of suffering."

"I'm sure many Mexicans have had such images in a dream," Reygadas said. "For sure it's the world record of beheading in our country. It's close to us, unfortunately."

The film is not completely dour — there are moments of sly humor, and Reygadas cites silent comedian Buster Keaton as a major influence.

"I'm always surprised when people say my films are gloomy and pessimistic," the director said. "I think I have a great sense of humor."

Reviews have been mixed. Variety said "'perplexing' (is) likely to be the kindest word" used about the film.

Reygadas said he knew his movies weren't for everyone.

"I want to ensure that some people are really moved and touched by the film, even if it's only a small proportion of people," he said.


Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless