Anger and outrage followed the bombshell detonated by Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, a tale of rape and revenge that is depicted more brutally than any film that has been shown at the Cannes festival.

That it did not win a single prize probably reflected its jury-dividing content, outweighing Noe's awesome technical prowess and narrative cleverness. Some critics had argued that the striking opening title credits alone should have won it a prize.

But its impact on audiences was devastating. Wire reports quote the local emergency services as having to administer oxygen to 20 people who fainted during the official screening of the film. Apparently some 250 walked out.

Forewarned of the picture's uncompromising portrayal of a nightclub slaying and a nine-minute rape scene, the Cannes jury requested a private screening, avoiding the reactions of an unsuspecting audience at a midnight screening

Noe defended himself and his film saying "this film is not a crime, it depicts a crime'. These are events which take place in real life, we should be able to see it on film." He argued that the most violent images he has ever seen are on the TV news. "There are lots of films today which feature murders, but very few really elicit an emotional response."

Hamish McAlpine, owner of UK distributor Metro Tartan, which became Irreversible's first buyer when it pre-bought the film at the AFM, said: "there is an absolutely clear line between those who like the film and those who don't. On one side there is the petit bourgeois, the other the creators. On one side there are the cinema owners, on the other the film directors.

"Irreversible is a very moral film. It shows man as a violent sexual beast - there are some people who don't want that to be the truth."

There may turn out to be many of them - and release certification promises to be complicated and controversial. Croisette rumours suggest that two of the Cannes selectors threatened to resign if the film was selected for competition and that Thierry Fremaux, the festival's newly installed artistic director, apparently said that he would resign were it not included.