David Cronenberg in conversation at The International Rome Film Festival

If the presence of iconic actor Al Pacino on Day One of the Rome Film festival was admittedly a tough act to follow, the presence of iconic film director David Cronenberg on Day Two was an equally thrilling encounter for fans of the maestro of body horror who was the star attraction yesterday afternoon. After a leisurely stroll up the red carpet where he signed numerous autographs and posed for photographs, he then spoke at length about his work as both director and occasional actor with Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti in front of a packed and enthusiastic audience in Sala Petrassi.

Following the familiar format for film meetings at the Auditorium the director spoke in between clips from some of his most famous movies – The Fly, A History of Violence, Dead Ringers and eXistenZ – as well as the extraordinary fight sequence featuring Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises which the curators paired with the Turkish bath house sequence in Orson Welles' Othello and which, curiously, Cronenberg said he'd never seen until that moment.

I'm a huge admirer of Cronenberg so this really was an enthralling experience. He discussed themes familiar to all his films – human violence, ageing, disease and mortality – in short, the human condition; it was also particularly refreshing to hear him speak in Italy, a country that dedicates huge amounts of space to what the Pope says and does on the main news most days, and to hear him declare himself as unashamedly atheist and as a person who doesn't believe in the human spirit existing outside the human body. He defined himself early on in the conversation as an “existentialist'”– however unfashionable that term may be nowadays! “Genius” will do nicely.

At the Palazzo delle Esposizioni there is also an exhibition of digitally elaborated photographs taken from stills from his films - Chromosomes. Cronenberg beyond cinema and an accompanying retrospective of his films