ANTICHRIST As his latest film testifies, Lars Von Trier is a man in need of a reaction. Allan Hunter meets him
L ars Von Trier makes films that defy consensus. He is a showman provocateur in search of a reaction, however extreme. The shrugged shoulders of indifference would be his definition of failure. With this in mind, Von Trier can only have been delighted with the heated response to the first Cannes press screening of Antichrist; amidst the jeers and booing could be heard significant pockets of sustained applause and fierce enthusiasm. Indifference was simply not an option. Critics who denounced it as torture porn with an arthouse sensibility were opposed by others who defended stream of consciousness exploration of primeval guilt.
it as a visceral,
Antichrist is an intense, almost inexplicable journey through the grief and self-loathing that follows the death of a child. It invests the sombre world of a Carl Dreyer psychodrama with the gruelling bloodletting of a Hostel. A couple, known simply as He and She, are making passionate love at home when their infant son falls through an open window to his death. The mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) seeks solace in an insatiable hunger for sex. The husband (Willem Dafoe) is a therapist who encourages her to face her fears. Together they retreat to their mountain cabin in rural Eden where overwrought emotions lead to a psychological warfare expressed in extreme violence, genital self-mutilation and death. 53 year-old Von Trier has long wanted to make a gothic horror film. Antichrist was designed to fulfil that ambition but also represents a comeback for Von Trier after a number of abandoned projects and the disappointing reactions to his experimental The Office-style comedy The Boss Of It All (2006). Antichrist was conceived in response to a lengthy period of deep depression spent lying in bed staring at the wall. In some respects it may even have been a form of therapy. ‘It’s more the routine of making a film that is therapy,’ he says after a moment’s pause. ‘The routine of getting up every day, going to work . . . that helps. I don’t think that for this subject – I don’t think it could cure anybody. I’m not trying to say any message. I have been much more clear and mathematical about other films, as logic has been a bigger part of it. This is more like a dream put into a film.’
Von Trier is perfectly capable of explaining his films and defending his work but Cannes seemed to bring out the worst in him. Sensing his critics baying for blood, he greeted them with a tolerant smirk and a blithe manner, stoking their anger by declaring himself to be ‘the best film director in the world’ and then stubbornly refusing to engage with attempts to better understand his inspirations.
‘I don’t think I have to excuse myself,’ he says. ‘You are all my guests. It’s not the other way around . . . I work for myself, and I’ve made this little film that I’m now rather fond of. I don’t do it for you or for an audience. So I don’t think I owe anybody an explanation.’ Von Trier does admit that Antichrist takes some of its inspiration from his fascination with the life and work of August Strindberg and it
26 THE LIST 23 Jul–6 Aug 2009