Cannes, France -- Cannes endured the nauseating sight of someone eating her own vomit on Monday, but the film's star, Mia Wasikowska, said it was a dark satire on the challenges facing teens.
The film festival awarded its top prize last year to a movie involving a 15-minute vomiting sequence, "Triangle of Sadness", and this year got its own gross-out scene in "Club Zero", this time set around a nutrition cult.
In one particularly revolting scene, a girl wanting to save the planet makes herself sick in front of her appalled parents and then eats her own vomit with a fork.
Wasikowska, known from "Alice in Wonderland" and "Crimson Peak", said the film uses eating disorders and cults to explore the anxieties of younger generations faced by climate change and global inequalities.
"I always think that if I was a teenager now I would be so nervous with the world that we are inheriting," Wasikowska told AFP.
"I just found it moving that these kids join this class because they care about the planet, a lot of them want to eat less meat, be more conscious. It's the most beautiful part of young people. And it gets corrupted, influenced."
The new feature from Austrian director Jessica Hausner takes place in a prestigious European college and centres on a group of teenagers who come under the influence of Ms Novak (Wasikowska), who advocates "conscious eating".
Essentially this means eating nothing in a bid to save the planet and opt out of consumer culture.
Speaking to AFP just ahead of the film's premiere in Cannes on Monday, Hausner said her film explored what happens when you follow an extreme idea to its limit.
"It is not to make people uneasy, it is to show how radicalisation works," Hausner said of the stomach-churning vomit scene.
With its satirical tone and touches of absurdist humour, it echoes the themes and style of "Triangle of Sadness", which won the Palme d'Or for Sweden's Ruben Ostlund, who is heading this year's jury.
- True believers -
Hausner and Wasikowska, an Australian actress who has starred in films by Tim Burton, Jim Jarmusch and David Cronenberg, prepared by researching cults and sects.
Key for Hausner was to make the teacher sincere in her beliefs rather than an evil manipulator.
"Jessica was absolutely insistent that she is a true believer and really believes what she is doing is the right thing," Wasikowska said.
The kids and Ms Novak "start to believe in something we would normally say is wrong and crazy, and this is very hard to accept, that people believe in ideas that are devastating or destructive", Hausner said.
Hausner's last feature "Little Joe", about an experiment in plant breeding going too far, was in competition at Cannes in 2019 and won best actress for Britain's Emily Beecham.
Like that film, "Club Zero" uses strong colours and creates an eerie atmosphere with an absurdist touch.
"I don't set the films in a particular time, so I try to create an artificial style with the visuals," Hausner said, adding that she was "bored" with naturalism.