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Hecklers, Women vs. Men, Depression and Horror: Von Trier “Appears” at NYFF

Hecklers, Women vs. Men, Depression and Horror: Von Trier "Appears" at NYFF

In a conversation that ranged from misogyny to his leadership in the dogme movement to the “provocateur” label, Lars von Trier spoke to journalists in anticipation of his “Antichrist” US premiere as part of the New York Film Festival’s 47th installment. The travel shy Dane spoke to the crowd of unusually vocal critics from his home via Skype. Moderator Dennis Lim, a part of the programming team for the NYFF, led the discussion off with a question about the state of mind von Trier was in when he made the film. “Antichrist” starts with the death of a young toddler.

The boy’s mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) develops terrible grief and is taken from the hospital where she is receiving psychiatric help to be treated at home by her husband (Willem Dafoe), a therapist. Responding to Lim, von Trier said that perhaps this feeling was a rare departure from his “usual satisfaction with his life and work,” a glimpse of “being human.” He added that perhaps his mood is changing with his New York premiere, saying “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

Expounding on the original aims for “Antichrist,” von Trier was at a loss. “I wanted to make a horror film.” Beyond that? “Normally, I know what to say, but I can’t tell you.” Upon being asked if David Lynch’s film “Blue Velvet” had anything to do with the script of “Antichrist,” von Trier said that he was a fan of “Twin Peaks,” but that he hadn’t seen “Blue Velvet.” Any similarity in the masochism of “Antichrist” and “Blue Velvet,” he joked was perhaps because “Lynch and [he] share a fetish.” Building on his categorization of “Antichrist” as a horror, von Trier said that he thinks there are hints of “Rosemary’s Baby” in “Antichrist” and that he watched several Japanese horror films to see the way horror is treated across cultures. When asked what he thought made a horror film a classic, he said that it is not “scares” but rather style and mood. Emphasizing the creative license allowed in horror, he added, “Horror allows room for a lot of strange pictures.”

The director continued propagating his provocateur image facetiously by questioning Lim, “You didn’t notice any walkouts? Then I have failed.” A few members of the audience yelled that they had seen a few leave or that they had wanted to leave were it not for the professional obligation. Von Trier also took the opportunity to comment on some parts of “Antichrist” he was not satisfied with. He was mostly happy with the captivating stylized slow motion sequences but had second thoughts on the sheen with which the rest of the film was shot. These shots, he said, “should have been filmed in something closer to the spare dogme style he developed in the 1990s.” He said that he was uncomfortable with the ease with which “Antichrist” can be called one of his most cinematic works. Another oversight in the filmmaking had to do with the script. When asked about the Biblical references in the film and their significance to the overall story, von Trier conceded, “Normally, I would have gone through the script and taken all that shit out…I’m sorry about the Eden stuff. It came up and I let it be.” He continued, “If it has to do with religion, it’s to say that there is no God.”

On the subject of Dafoe’s casting, von Trier said that he was in a rough spot casting the role of the man when Dafoe, a good friend, emailed him asking if the director had a role for him. Von Trier was ecstatic to give him the role. When asked if he thought the audience should feel sympathy for Dafoe’s character, von Trier said that he felt he put some of his own understandings of the world onto both characters. “I understand him. I feel like an idiot like him sometimes.” Responding to a question from a woman who felt maybe Gainsbourg’s character was meant to be seen as a bad mother, von Trier exclaimed, “You should have seen my mother!”

And later, responding to a question about an unusual credit, Heidi Laura for her research on “misogyny,” von Trier said that this research was just used for the quotations that Gainsbourg’s character researches for her thesis on the topic. Subtly responding to a common critique of his films, he joked, “I don’t think the film has much to do with whether women are good or not. I believe women are as bad as men.” Beyond “Antichrist,” von Trier says that he presumes there must be a third film in his “U.S.A.” trilogy, but that the idea has not yet come to him. “When I have the idea, I suppose I will make it.”

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