“And I am the best film director in the world. I’m not sure if God is the best God in the world.”
So said Lars von Trier, just cold provokin’ at the apparently hilariously combative Cannes press conference following the bow of his Antichrist, a movie in which grieving mother Charlotte Gainsbourg does horrible things to genitals (hers and hubby Willem Dafoe’s), and which has provoked the most divisive reaction of any Cannes movie in recent memory: heavy boos, defiant applause, and hysterical laughter (at the ending title card dedicating the film to Andrei Tarkovsky).
The very first question of the press conference: “Would you please, for my benefit, explain — and justify — why you made this movie?”
The reviews are in, some of them; the best line so far is the Canadian critic who describes it as “Bergman meets Saw”, or else Jonatham Romney’s Antonin Artaud-meets-Stephen King formulation. The response seems split into roughly equal camps of vitriol at a mean-spirited, misogynist work; befuddlement at an overheated cock-up; serious admiration of a challenging work; and amusement at the absurdly oversized provocation, and the intense division of the reaction.
Writing for ArtForum, Melissa Anderson notes the coincidence of Antichrist screening for a Cannes jury presided over by Isabelle Huppert, who, after all, “was awarded the Best Actress prize at Cannes in 2001 for Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher — a role that also required sharp objects applied Down There.” Could Antichrist win the Palme d’Or? You know what, I’m going to say, sight unseen, that I hope it does, because why the fuck not.
Whether he consciously intends this or not, Lars von Trier’s entire career is a performance art piece designed to explore the lengths to which right-thinking people will (or will not) go to justify not despising and rejecting movies that exist for the sole purpose of being despised and rejected by right-thinking people.
At least, that’s my own justification.
I will almost certainly dislike this movie, provided that I go into it attempting to take it seriously. But at least Lars flaunts the fact that he’s a snake-oil salesman spitting zero-sum cynicism right back in his audience’s face. His arrogance is almost admirable, in a way. Funny Games would have been improved immeasurably by “Young Americans” playing over the end credits.