Danish Bad Boy Lars Von Trier Defends’Antichrist’
During the recent 2009 New York Film Festival, after the press screening of “Antichrist,” Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier appeared at a press conference via Skype video. (Von Trier has a well-known phobia of flying and has never visited the United States.) He is undoubtedly one of the most prominent personalities inhabiting the universe of international cinema, with experimental work that can be viewed as innovative or gimmicky, depending on one’s perspective.
The maverick originated the “Dogme 95 Manifesto,” getting other filmmakers to sign his aesthetic “vow of chastity,” which basically means a minimalist form of filmmaking using the bare essentials of gear and props. “Breaking the Waves” (1996), winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, was influenced by but did not follow all the rules of Dogme 95. Though not required, von Trier decided to be nude when directing his first official Dogme 95 film, “The Idiots” (1998), whose explicit depiction of sex started a small trend in art house films.
Leaving Dogme 95’s simplicity behind by deploying 100 simultaneous cameras to shoot “Dancer in the Dark” (2000), a musical starring singer Björk, von Trier won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes. Conversely, for the production of “Dogville” (2003), he used no sets, only chalk lines on the ground.
“Antichrist” marked the director’s impressive eighth time in the official competition at Cannes, where the film’s world premiere in May attracted considerable controversy for the extreme darkness of its subject matter and atmosphere, including brutally graphic demonstrations of physical violence. During the press conference at Cannes, he was asked by an angry British reporter to “explain and justify why you made this movie.” Von Trier declined to do so, retorting, “It’s the hand of God. And I am the best film director in the world. I’m not sure if God is the best God in the world.”
At the New York Film Festival, the first questioner specifically made it a point to avoid going down that road again. Instead, von Trier answered a query about the depression he reported suffering while making the film. “It was different in the way that I am normally excited. Normally, I’m extremely happy about my own abilities and talent and what I’m doing. But I felt almost maybe human, so I was not excited,” he explained. “I tried to bring myself out of the depression, but it hasn’t really worked. But I’m very happy to see all you people in New York. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” he said to laughter.
Commenting on his well-deserved reputation as a provocateur, von Trier also quipped: “If there are not any walk-outs [in the audience] then I have failed.”
As for the film’s purported Biblical allusions, von Trier simply said: “If the film has anything to do [with the Bible], it has to do with that there is no God. That is how I see it.”
The director though said it wasn’t any particular idea or motivation that spurred him to take on the project. “I don’t really know where it came from. The idea was to make a horror film, which I know it was not really. I think I started with that. Normally, I know what to say, but I can’t tell you [right now].”
Von Trier did recall some cinematic influences. “At a certain point in my confusion, I started seeing Japanese horror films and liked them very much. But maybe I liked them not so much for the horror, but … the cultural differences,” he said. “It’s interesting to see images that are definitely not from the West. I like them very much. And yes, I’m influenced of course by ‘The Shining.’ Also ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ absolutely. And for me, ‘Carrie’ was a very good film when I saw it.”
He also admires the work of director David Lynch. “I was very, very taken by ‘Twin Peaks.’ I thought that was a fantastic piece of whatever it was,” he joked. “I’m a big fan so I think I have similar things. Maybe Lynch and I share a fetish.”
Von Trier elaborated on what he thinks makes a memorable horror film. “I think that ‘Psycho’ is a classic not because it was scary, though I thought it was quite scary. But I don’t think it’s the scary things that I remember. I remember style. The good things about horror films is they give you room for a lot of things — room for strange pictures or whatever. And I didn’t find ‘The Shining’ very scary. As with all other films, it has to do with the personality that you feel in the film.”
About the Author
Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.