The day after critics and journalists heckled and booed his new film "Antichrist," here at the Cannes Film Festival, director Lars Von Trier stepped into the spotlight to talk about the movie. A loud boo could be heard as he entered the press conference room, eliciting a faint smile on the filmmaker's face.
"I am the best film director in the world," Lars Von Trier proclaimed provocatively today when pressed to defend his Cannes competition entry, a quote that will surely follow him for some time to come. Later during the discussion, another journalist returned to that statement, asking him to list other filmmakers he also likes.
"All the others are overrated, so that's quite simple," Von Trier quipped, stirring laughter from the room. "I just met Scorsese [at the hotel] and I think it's quite easy for all of you educated people [to see] where most of these things come from."
"This knowledge I have that I am the best director, I see it as true," Von Trier continued, "I am sure other directors may feel the same, [but] maybe they dont say it," he said, never raising his voice. "I am not sure I am. I just think I am."
The tone of the session was set with the first question from the press. Journalist Baz Bamigboye from the Daily Mail asked Von Trier to explain his controversial new movie, which features Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple grieving in the wake of the sudden death of their young child. The two travel to the woods to get away, but while there they go to extremes. Set amidst beautiful imagery and a tranquil outdoor landscape, the film includes graphic portrayals of torture and genital mutilation as the grieving couple aggressively confont each other.
Read indieWIRE's review of Lars Von Trier's "Antichrist."
"I can't justify myself," said Von Trier starting to explain after that first question, before being cut off by Bamigboye.
"Well, why did you make it then?" the journalist shouted back at him.
"I enjoyed making it," Von Trier responded quietly, pausing and seeming just slightly flustered.
"I don't have very much to say," Von Trier continued, "I think its a very strange question that I have to defend myself. I don't feel that. You are all my guests, it's not the other way around, that's how I feel."
"I work for myself," Von Trier added, "I haven't done it for you or for an audience. I don't think I owe anybody an explanation."
The genital mutilation scenes in the film are the ones that most who've seen the movie will likely discuss, debate or simply laugh at, as was the case after last night's screening. "We could only shoot it once, you know," Von Trier deadpanned, garnering even more laughs, when asked why he included such graphic imagery. "For me, not to show it would be lying as this is a very dark dream about guilt and sex and stuff. It came in naturally."
Von Trier has explained that "Antichrist" came out of a two year period of depression that he faced in which everything seemed unimportant to him. "Six months later, just as an exercise, I wrote a script," Von Trier explained, in a letter that is included in the press kit for the movie (reprinted on the subsequent page here). "It was a kind of therapy, but also a search, a test to see if I would ever make another film."
“I would like to invite you for a tiny glimpse behind the curtain," he writes in the notes, "A glimpse into the dark world of my imagination: into the nature of my fears, into the nature of Antichrist.” He calls the the movie, "The most important film of my entire career."
Asked later how or if this film brought him harmony, Von Trier seemed a bit confused, but explained, "Its more the routine of making a film that is therapy, the routine of getting up every day and going to work and that helps."
Pressed to react to the journalist's negative reactions to his new movie, again Von Trier remained steady. "I have been treated badly by the press before, I like that...its a good start for a discussion, you know, that you feel something about the project."
And, given the strong reactions to the movie already, how will he distribute it, another journalist answered. "That's something I have not though about," Von Trier replied simply.
"I dont believe in thinking about audience when you do a film, so maybe it wil be a catastrophe."
Lars Von Trier: Director's Confession
Two years ago, I suffered from depression. It was a new experience for me. Everything, no matter what, seemed unimportant, trivial. I couldn't work.
Six months later, just as an exercise, I wrote a script. It was a kind of therapy, but also a search, a test to see if I would ever make another film.
The script was finished and filmed without much enthusiasm, made as it was using about half of my physical and intellectual capacity.
The work on the script did not follow my usual modus operandi. Scenes were added for no reason. Images were composed free of logic or dramatic thinking. They often came from dreams I was having at the time, or dreams I'd had earlier in my life.
Once again, the subject was "Nature," but in a different and more direct way than before. In a more personal way.
The film does not contain any specific moral code and only has what some might call 'the bare necessities' in the way of a plot.
I read Strindberg when I was young. I read with enthusiasm the things he wrote before he went to Paris to become an alchemist and during his stay there ... the period later called his "inferno crisis" - was "Antichrist" my Inferno Crisis? My affinity with Strindberg?
In any case, I can offer no excuse for "Antichrist". Other than my absolute belief in the film - the most important film of my entire career!
Lars von Trier, Copenhagen, 25/03/09.