Danish film provocateur Lars von Trier has carved out a distinctive, if courageous career. While it is difficult to challenge his filmmaking artistry, the underlying themes of his films have been savaged by various factions. Though a proud recipient of the Palme d’Or and generally beloved at Cannes, by and large the film critic cabal is mixed when it comes to his movies, and in some corners he is downright reviled.
A hallmark of von Trier is his relentless experimentation. Take Dancer in the Dark, for example. Icelandic songstress and all around enigma Bjork was cast as a lead. The film was shot exclusively on a handheld camera, and it included an overture to boot, the first film to do so in decades. Dogville continued the experimentation parade. In lieu of traditional sets, the film was shot on a stage. Marked white outlines were used to simulate set pieces. It could be argued the only real constants in von Trier enterprises are mixed reviews, middling North American box office, and his continual theme of the bleakness of humanity. Do not expect Lars von Trier on ANY shortlist for upcoming blockbusters. Of course, the director himself would surely laugh off any attempt by a studio to inquire about his availability. Von Trier has a distinct vision and up to this point only answers to himself.
The director is largely up to his old tricks in his newest film, Antichrist. It tells the story of a grieving couple who retreat to the woods to recover from the loss of their son. Psychological horror ensues in vague and complicated fashion. In a sense, this is the same old von Trier: Well made…check. Piles of metaphors and allegories…check. Explicit scenes of sex and violence…check. Mixed critical response…check! But with Antichrist, the bar seems to have been raised a notch or ten. The film has already been derided (or praised, depending on your point of view) for extremely graphic and pervasive sex scenes, including some that might be construed as pornography. This, of course, begs the question as to who was happier with the casting decision, Willem Dafoe or Charlotte Gainsbourg? Maybe thinking the sex scenes dominated the picture, von Trier decided to throw in some ultra-violence to boot. When the not-so-happily-married couple is not romping around in bed they seem to be at each others throats, literally. The violence quotient has been compared to cinema hacked out by the torture porn king himself, Eli Roth.
The stir Antichrist caused up at Cannes and subsequent festivals has proven the notion that there is indeed no such thing as bad press. IFC picked up the rights to distribute the film in the United States mere hours after its premiere. Manderlay was also distributed by IFC, but only reaped a pittance of around $600,000 worldwide. Perhaps the suits at IFC believe the impassioned stir sparked at Cannes will follow Antichrist across the pond and into local theaters. (Brian Pew/BOP)