A few years ago, Vincent Gallo brought his film, THE BROWN BUNNY, to the Cannes Film Festival where it was declared “the worst film in the history of the festival.” Audiences at Cannes aren’t like typical American audiences. They are very vocal, and THE BROWN BUNNY was met with loud boos and jeers throughout. The film was eventually re-cut into a film I enjoyed very much. This year controversy surrounds Lars Von Trier’s new film, ANTICHRIST, which the audience at Cannes met with “derisive laughter, gasps of disbelief, a smattering of applause and loud boos.”
Antichrist opens with a heavily stylized, black-and-white, slow-motion portrayal of the child’s accidental death set to soaring music by Handel.
Dafoe’s character, who is a therapist, tries to help his wife deal with her grief and encourages her to come off heavy medication that sedates her for weeks after the death.
They decide to go to an isolated wooden cabin in an unspecified forest to recover, but the woman Gainsbourg portrays loses control of her senses.
The abuse she submits herself and her husband to drew shocked gasps from the audience.
The reaction suggested that von Trier, who won the top prize in Cannes with “Dancer in the Dark” in 2000, could be in for a rough ride from reviewers and journalists on Monday.
Todd McCarthy of “Variety”, who is probably the most influential critic in the country, wrote:
Lars von Trier cuts a big fat art-film fart with “Antichrist.” As if deliberately courting critical abuse, the Danish bad boy densely packs this theological-psychological horror opus with grotesque, self-consciously provocative images that might have impressed even Hieronymus Bosch, as the director pursues personal demons of sexual, religious and esoteric bodily harm, as well as feelings about women that must be a comfort to those closest to him. Traveling deep into NC-17 territory, this may prove a great date movie for pain-is-pleasure couples. Otherwise, most of the director’s usual fans will find this outing risible, off-putting or both — derisive hoots were much in evidence during and after the Cannes press screening — while the artiness quotient is far too high for mainstream-gore groupies.
However, Roger Ebert defends it. Sort of:
I rarely find a serious film by a major director to be this disturbing. Its images are a fork in the eye. Its cruelty is unrelenting. Its despair is profound.
A reader signing himself Scott D posted this comment after my first entry on the film: “If it is in fact the most despairing film you’ve ever seen, shouldn’t it be considered a monumental achievement? Despair is such a significant aspect of the human condition (particularly in the modern western world) so how can this not be a staggeringly important film, given your statement?” There is truth to what Scott D says. In the first place, it’s important to note that “Antichrist” is not a bad film. It is a powerfully-made film that contains material many audiences will find repulsive or unbearable. The performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are heroic and fearless. Von Trier’s visual command is striking. The use of music is evocative; no score, but operatic and liturgical arias. And if you can think beyond what he shows to what he implies, its depth are frightening.
I cannot dismiss this film. It is a real film. It will remain in my mind. Von Trier has reached me and shaken me. It is up to me to decide what that means.
Though ANTICHRIST’s negative reviews probably put it out of the running for the Palm D’or this year, ANTICHRIST remains the talk of the festival. At least until INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS screens. When asked for comment, Von Trier responded that ANTICHRIST was “the best and most important film of my career.”