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VENICE, Italy — In a single word, what’s Mel Gibson’s relationship with Hollywood?

“Survival,” he said Sunday, when a reporter asked the question at a packed news conference in Venice for “Hacksaw Ridge,” his new pacifism-themed war drama. The film has its gala screening at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday night, and marks Gibson’s return to the director’s chair after a decade during which he’s played the lead in several tabloid scandals.

The same journalist at the news conference went further, asking Gibson if he thought he was better, both as an actor and a director, when he was younger.

Gibson, 60, shot back: “I suppose when I was young I was better at playing someone younger!” Then he added, reflecting on his career, “I think, generally speaking, I’ve developed an ease with time.”

Gibson said that “the key to any skill is relaxation, and I think with age you just get bored, so you have to relax. It comes with the territory. Hopefully we get better.”

But that doesn’t always happen. “Sometimes you take this big step backwards,” he said. “I’ve done it. You do something good, and then you do something not quite as good, for one reason or another. Maybe it’s where you are in your life.”

Comments about the powerful message about personal conviction in “Hacksaw Ridge” were largely left to actor Andrew Garfield, who plays Desmond T. Doss, the army medic at the heart of the film. Doss, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, refused to wield a gun during World War II. But he became the first conscientious objector in U.S. history to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor after heroically saving 75 men from the battlefield during the American campaign to take Okinawa.

“The beautiful thing about Desmond Doss is that he was a very simple man, in the sense that he had a knowing. He had a knowing in his heart, in the core of his being, that he was not supposed to take another man’s life,” Garfield said.

“There are a lot of violent uprisings and separation and warring ideologies that are bleeding our beautiful planet right now,”  Garfield added. “And I think Desmond Doss is a wonderful symbol embodying the idea of ‘live and let live.'”

Gibson said that “the difference between a real superhero and, like, a comic book one is that real superheroes don’t wear any Spandex.”

Gibson also talked about his skill at staging the large-scale battle scenes in the film, a skill that goes back to “Braveheart,” for which he won an Oscar.

“The important thing with battle and depicting it on screen is to be clear — to not be confusing with it,” he said.

“To give the impression of chaos and confusion, but to be absolutely clear what it is you want the audience to see and what you want to extract from the sequences. It’s all about screen direction. Knowing who the players are. You have to approach it like a sporting event.”