CANNES, France (Reuters) - Danish director Lars von Trier made no excuses on Monday for his controversial film “Antichrist”, which shocked audiences at the Cannes film festival for its graphic sex and violence.
The film is one of 20 in the main competition, and during a press screening on Sunday there was derisive laughter at key moments, along with gasps of disbelief at scenes of genital mutilation and boos as the credits rolled.
The film stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple seeking to overcome the grief of losing their son, and, while generally unpopular, has become the most talked-about entry in this year’s festival which ends on May 24.
“I don’t think I have to justify it,” the 53-year-old film maker told a news conference, when asked by an angry reporter why he had made the movie.
“I make films and enjoyed it very much. I think it is a very strange question that I have to excuse myself. I haven’t done it for you or an audience so I don’t think I owe anyone an explanation,” he said.
“I‘m not trying to say anything ... This is more like a dream put into a film,” he said, adding later in the briefing: “This is a very dark dream about guilt and sex and stuff.”
In production notes handed out in Cannes, von Trier called Antichrist “the most important film of my entire career.”
Cannes audiences often react audibly to films during screenings, but Sunday’s viewing was unusually demonstrative.
Jeers, laughter and groans broke out during scenes ranging from a talking fox to graphically portrayed sexual mutilation and self-mutilation.
Many viewers in the large Debussy cinema also appeared to take objection to von Trier’s decision to dedicate his film to the revered Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky.
A smattering of applause was drowned out by booing at the end, reflecting the general consensus that the film was deliberately over-the-top and provocative. A minority of critics have praised it for its courage and inventiveness.
When asked whether he had raised any objections to the graphic content during shooting, Dafoe simply replied: “No”. Gainsbourg described her involvement as “intense” and “special”.
During a press conference that was at times tense, von Trier drew laughter by saying he was the best director in the world.
“I am the best film director in the world,” he said. “I‘m not sure, but I just think I am.”
The director, who won the coveted Palme d‘Or in Cannes with “Dancer in the Dark” in 2000, also said he made Antichrist as a way of coping with depression.
“It’s ... the routine of making a film that is therapy.”
Antichrist opens with a black-and-white, slow-motion portrayal of the child’s death set to soaring music by Handel.
Dafoe’s character, 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 go to an isolated wooden cabin in an unspecified forest to recover, but the woman Gainsbourg portrays quickly loses control of her senses.
(Editing by Steve Addison)
To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog "Fan Fare" online at blogs.reuters.com/fanfare