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Director Franco finds comedy in tale of murderous backwoodsman

Director and actor James Franco poses during a photocall for his movie "Child of God" during the 70th Venice Film Festival in Venice August
Director and actor James Franco poses during a photocall for his movie "Child of God" during the 70th Venice Film Festival in Venice August

By Michael Roddy

VENICE (Reuters) - Director James Franco says the character Lester Ballard in his new film "Child of God" has a trace of Charlie Chaplin in him, though the tale of a cave-dwelling necrophiliac is mostly as dark as can be.

Based on Cormac McCarthy's novella of the same name, the movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday portrays a Tennessee backwoodsman who has never recovered from his father's suicide and sinks into ever deeper levels of anti-social and psychopathic behavior.

Franco said he sought permission from the "No Country for Old Men" writer to film the seemingly unfilmable story because it provided a way "for me to examine something that's pushed out of civilized society".

But he also found elements of a fumbling, awkward comedy that reminded him on Chaplin, though of a much darker nature than anything the silent film star ever put on screen.

"He's kind of, in some ways he's kind of clumsy, he's, you know, almost comedic," Franco told Reuters in an interview.

"Not laugh-out funny but he's a little ridiculous in some ways and I felt like that's something I've never seen before on the screen, a killer like this that's a little foolish or almost like Charlie Chaplinesque."

That awkwardness shows through in one scene when Ballard, played by Texan actor Steve Haze, struggles to push a woman's body up a ladder into an attic.

"It's not a movie like 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' that is drawing people in with the violence," Franco said.

"It's using the dark subject matter as, for me, using it as a metaphor or as an extreme example of something that is more general, a more general kind of a theme which is extreme isolation, extreme loneliness and also somebody that is unable to fit into the civilized society."

"I'm not trying to do a sympathetic portrayal of him. I don't condone murder but it's a film, it's a piece of art. So in that sense you can use this extreme subject matter to talk about something more general and that was what was interesting."

Franco said the film is not as violent as the subject matter suggests, and does not portray violence as graphically as some recent films, though there are scenes that will make jaws drop.

"There were scenes that needed to kind of be explicit ... in order to kind of make a mark but it's not a thriller, it's not a horror movie," he told a post-screening press conference.

"It's more of a character study so the movie doesn't really depend on violence."

(Additional reporting by Hanna Rantala in Venice; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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