It isn't easy to shock the jaded audiences at the Cannes Film Festival, but Danish director Lars von Trier achieved that with his new movie, "Antichrist." It wasn't really the title. It wasn't the weird scenes with a talking fox. It was the graphically portrayed sexual mutilation.
Let's dispense with the plot. A couple is mourning the loss of a child. They go to an isolated cabin, the mother loses her mind and goes postal on her husband and herself. Pressed by journalists about his film, von Trier claimed his movies choose him, not the other way around. "I never have a choice," he said. "It's the hand of God, I'm afraid." He added, "I am the best film director in the world."
Journalists don't agree. "I thought I had my head down a lavatory, frankly," said Baz Bamigboye of London's Daily Mail, one writer who demanded that von Trier attempt to justify his sick movie. The Hollywood Reporter called it "torture porn."
Brian Johnson, a critic for the Canadian news magazine Macleans, gave his readers a bitter taste: "This is the first film in which I've seen an erect penis ejaculate blood after its owner is genitally assaulted while having sex. And that's just the start. This is not your daddy's chainsaw massacre movie. In this case, the weapon of choice is a carpentry hand-drill. That's right, the old-fashioned kind that kind of works like a butter churn. In a moment of inspiration, [the wife] employs this device to bore a hole in her husband's leg, then uses a wrench to bolt a grindstone to it. And while we're racking up precedents, it's probably safe to say that until now we've never seen a woman perform a clitorectomy on herself with a pair of scissors."
Says the "art" film director: "I work for myself, and I do this little film that I am now kind of fond of. I haven't done it for you or an audience, so I don't think I owe anybody an explanation."
The audience be damned? That sounds a lot like a snooty European auteur. But it's a sign of the times that he quickly found an American distributor for "Antichrist," IFC Films. It's part of the Rainbow Media empire, which includes cable channels like AMC, IFC, We TV and the Sundance Channel.
IFC chief Jonathan Sehring poured praise all over this nightmare: "It is a towering work of cinema by one its greatest directors. We are incredibly excited to bring this film to America and expect it to have a major impact on audiences not only in America but worldwide."
A major impact? No von Trier film has ever grossed more than $6 million in the United States.