Lars von Trier has never been the kind of filmmaker for the faint of heart. His films, so emotionally hard-hitting and tragic can leave haunting images that float through your mind for days. His Breaking The Waves was a beyond-upsetting portrait of a simple young woman's loss of purity; Idioterne was part of his Dogme 95 movement, and featured a group of young men and women pretending to be mentally retarded. Yet, even with that notorious reputation, his latest film Antichrist is creating quite a stir at Cannes.
WARNING: What follows in this piece contains some spoilers from the film Antichrist, so if you're into surprises, look away.
Based on that trailer alone, you can guess that this film will probably push the boundaries that most pictures stay within. It is a horror film about a man (Willem Defoe) who tries to treat his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) from a deep depression she has suffered since the death of their young child. They scream, they argue, and sooner than later, they inflict horrible pain upon each other, both physically and psychologically. Among the acts detailed, the wife supposedly drills a hole into her husband's leg, connects it to a grindstone, smashes his testicles, and then gives him a hand job until he ejaculates blood. Another moment being talked about is when the wife cuts off her own clitoris with a pair of scissors.
What role does this kind of exhibitionism play in cinema today? I'm not sure, mostly because I have not seen the actual film (it doesn't have a US distributor, and it will most likely be saddled by small theater release and an NC-17 rating). The detailed events that happen in the film are shocking, but not particularly surprising if you're familiar with the work of von Trier, but what seems to be debated over in France is whether or not he may have become too megalomaniacal for his own good. Narcisism has never been a debate for von Trier, after the showing of his film last week, he stated in an interview: "I am the best filmaker in the world".
I'd have to imagine that both Defoe and Gainsbourg--two excellent performers in their own right--are von Trier fans, because these kinds of acts require absolute trust in the man in charge, and absolute fearlessness. The film's cinematographer is recent Oscar winner Anthony Dod Mantle, and it is said that he films the horrific moments with stark clarity. Again, there's nothing in Mantle's work that would suggest that he would do it any other way. If there is one thing von Trier has certainly accomplished with this Antichrist fiasco, he has drummed up more publicity for this film than anything the film could have done on its own. The man has created a career by coaxing controversy, and even after all these years, we've fallen for it again.