Lars von Trier has broken his silence on the hostile Cannes reaction to his serial killer drama, “The House That Jack Built.” The movie premiered out of competition on May 14 and immediately courted controversy for scenes depicting graphic violence against women, children, and animals. The premiere included dozens of walkouts and reviews were fiercely divided, with some critics praising von Trier’s vision and others slamming it as repulsive.
“[It] made me very relaxed,” von Trier told Cineurope about the outrage to “The House That Jack Built.” “It’s quite important not to be loved by everybody, because then you’ve failed. I’m not sure if they hated it enough, though. If it gets too popular, I’ll have a problem. But the reception seemed just about right.”
Von Trier said “Jack” was a “pleasure to write” and that he knew more about psychopaths than serial killers before taking on the project. “I’ve never killed anyone myself,” von Trier said about being unfamiliar with the world of his protagonist. The director then joked: “If I do, it will probably be a journalist.”
“The House That Jack Built” stars Matt Dillon as the titular serial killer. The script finds Jack looking back on the five most important kills of his life. According to Von Trier, part of the allure of writing the film was giving himself the challenge of writing a purely evil male lead.
“It was a task I gave myself, which was very pleasurable and possibly also a little childish, especially when I realised that all the women seemed extremely stupid,” the director said. “It’s also refreshing with a main character that can do pretty much anything when it comes to terrible acts and getting away with it. I revisited some very good Patricia Highsmith literature for the right inspiration.”
The May 14 Cannes premiere was notable for being von Trier’s return to the festival for the first time in seven years. The director was named a “persona non grata” in 2011 after he made comments involving Nazism during the “Melancholia” press conference. Von Trier said he “felt welcome” when he arrived to Cannes 2018. Prior to the “Jack” screening, von Trier received a prolonged standing ovation from the audience.
“The reception when I entered the cinema yesterday was very warm,” von Trier said. “It’s also a bit nice being out of competition. They made it very clear that I would not be in competition this time around, as a little piece of remaining punishment for me.”
Von Trier mentioned that Cannes director Thierry Frémaux had “been working hard” behind the scenes to bring the director back to competition but that removing his “persona non grata” title was “very difficult.” But von Trier has no hard feelings. The filmmaker said at this point in his career it’s not too important to be competing at Cannes, especially since he’s done so numerous time and has won many Cannes prizes.
“It’s kind of stupid to compete in film, and I must be the worst competitor in the world, because I’ve been to Cannes 12 times and picked up about four or five prizes,” von Trier said. “Anyone else would pick up their five awards and then stop, but I’ve been back again and again, for nothing. Since I always have to stay for the duration because I drive all the way from Denmark, it’s just humiliating to be told on the last day that there is nothing to pick up.”
IFC Films acquired U.S. distribution rights to “The House That Jack Built” before Cannes started and will release the film in theaters this fall. Head over to Cineurope to read von Trier’s interview in its entirety.