Lars von Trier, Antichrist, 2009, still from a color film in 35 mm, 100 minutes.


CERTAIN VERY TENDER BODY PARTS are excised in Lars von Trier’s competition title Antichrist; based on the responses at last night’s screening and the press conference this afternoon, several members of the fourth estate would like to chop off an appendage or two of the great Dane's. Von Trier’s film—a psychosexual religious horror movie about a couple (Willem Dafoe and a fearless Charlotte Gainsbourg) who retreat to their cabin in the woods while mourning the death of their toddler son—was met with some of the most vicious booing at the festival (amid, it must be noted, vigorous applause), preceded by cackles at the title that announced THIS FILM IS DEDICATED TO ANDREI TARKOVSKY.

Von Trier has been tarred as a misogynist since at least Breaking the Waves (1996), and the act of self-inflicted bodily harm Gainsbourg commits in Antichrist led some journos to conclude that the director is Beelzebub himself. At the packed press conference, one British reporter, unable to mask his fury, began the usually banal proceedings with this challenge: “Would you please, for my benefit, explain—and justify—why you made this movie?” The director quietly countered, “I don’t think I owe anybody an explanation,” sending the writer into further apoplexy: “Yes, you do! Yes, you do!” Von Trier drolly reminded us that a certain etiquette must be obeyed: “You are all my guests. Not the other way around.”

Envoys of other nations were far kinder. “It’s an excellent film, a fine film. And the Russians, they understand it,” praised one Moscow-based interlocutor, just a few minutes after von Trier declared himself “the best director in the world” and that all other helmers are “overrated”—which may have explained the look of disgust on the provocateur’s face when a French journalist wondered whether Dario Argento, and not Tarkovsky, might be the more obvious influence on Antichrist.

Will the outrage surrounding Antichrist increase its chances of winning the Palme d’Or? The festival’s most prestigious award has gone to despised films before, notably Maurice Pialat’s Under Satan’s Sun in 1987; booed when he went onstage to collect his prize, Pialat shot back, “If you don’t like me out there, I don’t like you, either!” Von Trier’s film might find ardent supporters in two of the jury members, both daring performers: madame le president Isabelle Huppert (who was awarded the Best Actress prize at Cannes in 2001 for Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher—a role that also required sharp objects applied Down There) and Asia Argento (provided she’s not offended by von Trier’s insult to her dad), who, two years ago at the festival, was crowned “the queen of Cannes” for her audacious turns in three films, including Olivier Assayas’s Boarding Gate, in which she strokes the part of herself that Gainsbourg does violence to. At the very least, von Trier should receive a Speculum d’Or.

Melissa Anderson