Violent movies at Cannes -- ''Reservoir Dogs,'' ''Bad Lieutenant,'' ''Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,'' and ''Basic Instinct'' are among the intense films premiering at this year's festival

Call it bad timing. France’s Cannes Film Festival got under way last week with the memory of the Los Angeles riots still fresh. At the same time, a number of American movies-including Bad Lieutenant with Harvey Keitel, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the Quentin Tarantino- directed Reservoir Dogs, and Basic Instinct, which opened the festival — tended to be hyper-violent. The juxtaposition provoked some bitter words about American violence and dominated even casual talk.

Whoopi Goldberg, in Cannes to plug her latest film, Sarafina!, said that ”movies are excessively violent because we’re desensitized to it. The riots have brought back sensitivity to violence because of economics. Now suddenly people are discussing it.” One screenwriter added later that ”the American public is out for blood, and Hollywood is going to give it to them. But it has to keep pushing the limits because moviegoers have become numb to it.”

Not everyone agreed, however, that violent films incite violence. ”We’re not inflaming, we’re reflecting,” said Tim Robbins (The Player). ”You can’t ignore what’s out there.” And director Paul Verhoeven defended his Instinct, saying he ”would not make the movies I’m making” if he saw a direct connection between screen violence and the real thing. ”Even if you made 100 movies showing that life is paradise and everyone should love each other,” he said, ”you’ll get crucified anyhow.”