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Lars Von Trier's 'Antichrist' Features Sex, Guilt, Genital Mutilation

JILL LAWLESS   05/18/09 11:27 AM ET   AP

Cannes

CANNES, France — Don't ask Lars von Trier why he made "Antichrist," the grim and gory tale of a trip to the woods that goes badly wrong, and a film that has left audiences at Cannes shaken, stirred _ and sharply divided.

The Danish director says his movies choose him, not the other way around.

"I never have a choice," von Trier said Monday. "It's the hand of God, I'm afraid.

"And," he added, "I am the best film director in the world."

Some viewers may disagree with that typical piece of von Trier bravado. "Antichrist" drew gasps, titters, applause and boos at its first Cannes Film Festival screening.

The opening question at the subsequent press conference was an angry demand that von Trier justify having made the film, about a couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) who retreat to their woodland cabin to heal after the death of their child. Out in the wilderness, malevolent nature _ animal, vegetable and most of all human _ soon rears its head.

Some audience members recoiled at the film's relentless tension and almost unbearably explicit scenes of violence, including genital mutilation.

"I thought I had my head down a lavatory, frankly," said Baz Bamigboye of Britain's Daily Mail, the journalist who asked von Trier to justify his film.

"I've defended his movies in the past," Bamigboye said after the news conference. "'Dogville' was hated. I defended his right to make that film, and I defend his right to make this film. But he still has to explain why he made it and what it represents."

Trade magazine Variety said in a review that "most of the director's usual fans will find this outing risible, off-putting or both." The Hollywood Reporter was more positive, recommending the film to von Trier fans and calling it "visually gorgeous to a fault and teeming with grandiose if often fascinating ideas."

At the news conference, one reporter compared the director to Dostoyevsky and Chekhov, another to Italian shlock horror-meister Dario Argento.

Von Trier, who often appears reluctant to analyze his films, described "Antichrist" as "a very dark dream about guilt and sex and stuff."

"I don't think I have to justify it," said von Trier, who said he made the film as a way of recovering from a period of severe depression.

"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.

"Maybe it will be a catastrophe," he said of the film's reception. "I have been treated bad by the press before. I like that also. It's a good start for a discussion, that you immediately feel something about the project."

Von Trier, who won Cannes' top prize in 2000 for "Dancer in the Dark," has explored extremes of emotion and suffering before, in films like "Breaking the Waves" and "Dogville." "Antichrist" also is up for the top prize.

"Antichrist" is grueling to watch, but the actors said making it had been surprisingly pleasant.

"For me it was quite an experience," said Gainsbourg. "Very intense, not a lot of talking and something that I won't live again that soon. I knew that it was special."

Dafoe said working with von Trier had been "a dream."

"I enjoy his company," the actor said. "I enjoy his sense of humor."

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Antichrist (2009)

Filed by Katherine Thomson  |