Lars Von Trier discusses 'Antichrist'
Controversy? What controversy? Lars Von Trier is meek and mild when it comes to discussing his latest film, 'Antichrist'
‘Cannes has been the festival that has allowed me to make films. To finance them we have to have financing from all around the world, and we have to promote them to a smaller, more alternative audience all around the world. And since I don’t travel to many other countries, it’s logistically much better. I’m much more comfortable with staying here and talking to you as a means for publicity.’
There has been a lot written about the film since its screening in Cannes. A lot of people have said that it is a return to the horror genre – would you agree with that assessment? Have you ever made a ‘Horror’ film?
‘A proper horror film? No. Whenever I try to use genre, I have a tendency to create a mixture. A lot of people would say this isn’t a horror film. But I did start off wanting to do a horror. The good thing about a horror film is that it allows you to put all kinds of strange stuff in there.'
Do you think other horror directors would agree with you that the genre gives you carte blanche to do anything?
‘I took a look at some horror films before I made "Antichrist", and yeah, there are a lot of different ways of telling the story. It was very refreshing to see the Japanese horror films for example.’
Which of those did you look at?
‘I looked at "Dark Water", and I also looked at "The Ring", which were very good. I also saw "Audition", which has a lot of killing and splatter.’
‘Audition’ is actually similar to ‘Antichrist’ in many ways, in that it has a docile female character who, in the end, turns out to be quite insane.
‘Yes, maybe I’ve stolen it all from there! But a question for you now: Do the Japanese have some sort of a fetish with hair? They really like hair over the face. I saw the hair in a lot of these films take very strange forms… '
It’s well documented that you were depressed whilst making this film. Were you seeing a therapist during that time?
‘Yes, believe it or not I actually worked my way out of depression whilst making this film. But yes, I’ve seen so many therapists. The actual therapy was the same cognitive therapy that the guy in the film works with.’
Can we assume from this film that your treatment was unsuccessful?
‘Oh yes, from any film I think you can assume that. The tools that they use in psychology, the cognitive therapy, seem quite poor when compared to the rest of modern medicine. It seems as if it hasn’t progressed for many years. They will still tell you, “If you are afraid of the tunnel, you must go through it.” Compared to heart surgery, the techniques seem a little poor.
The film has been provoking widely divergent readings: some say it’s pure provocation, others say it's misogynist.
‘This film was intended to not be too “thought out”. Some of my other films have been very controlled, and I really like films that are open. I have never made films that are so open to interpretation, and so yes, it was intentional with “Antichrist”. But misogyny? I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder would happen if I just said “I hate women”?’
In your earlier film ‘Epidemic’ one screenwriter character played by you depicts his film by drawing a timeline on the wall. Do you use that technique?
‘Oh yes, very much so and far too much. Right now I’m standing looking at a red line on the wall in my office. It’s ridiculous and I want to get free of it!’
You often have ‘chapters’ in your films. I was wondering if they were a direct result of your ‘line’.
‘The concept of having chapters is actually taken from "Barry Lyndon", one of my top ten films. It was very surprising when Nicole Kidman told me that Stanley Kubrick had said to her that he hated long films. If you look at the last scene in "Barry Lyndon", his former wife is simply writing him a cheque: it takes a quarter of an hour!’
How did you explain to Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg what they were about to be involved in? Were you very explicit about what was required?
‘Yes that was the whole idea. It’s really bad if you have to slip in at the last minute, “Oh and by the way, you have to masturbate in this scene”. That wouldn’t be fair. It’s really important that they knew what they were going into and that they were happy doing it. It’s very important for me to have a good relationship with the actors.’
You’ve said that the actual shooting of the film wasn’t as enjoyable as previous experiences.
‘Oh it was terrible, I was really suffering. It was an ordeal this time around. Normally I would have carried the camera myself, but for many reasons I couldn’t. For one, my hands were shaking so much. There are three scenes in the film in which I was in control of the camera, and you can see that it trembles a little. I didn’t have the energy to direct and film at the same time: it was really humiliating. I have always been used to controlling the camera, and the feeling that I wasn’t able to do that anymore was horrible.’
Do you feel that you’re at a point now that if you were to go back, you could get your hands dirty so to speak?
‘Let’s say I will not give you a very clear answer on that one, as I’m not quite sure. But when I do next have a project, I certainly hope that I will be able to use the handheld camera. My camera technique is essential to the film’s effect.’
You’ve said in interviews that the character and the atmosphere are the most important things, and that the actual narrative construction is like completing a banal crossword. Did you still think that?
‘It’s what I’ve said earlier on in my career, that the mathematical side of filmmaking is quite boring. Yet, it’s also something I believe I’m quite good at. The limitations I tend to set myself are to prevent me from doing what I’m good at, and to force me to develop my weaker skills – to do what I otherwise wouldn’t be inclined to do.'
Did you have any limitations that you set yourself for this film?
‘The only limitation on this film was that I wasn’t able to be physically present. I was in a poor state. I was afraid.’
Was the filmmaking process itself therapeutic?
‘The treatment for depression these days is that someone makes a schedule for you: you have to get up at a said time, you have to piss at a said time. Everything is planned so you don’t stay in bed and stare at the wall all day. So in that sense, working on a film is a great way to keep yourself occupied and confined to routine.’
The way the film is shot is very different from your past films.
‘One of the things I’m not so satisfied with is that it was originally the idea to have two parts, each shot in different styles, but it never happened. It was to be one half in a static, traditional style, and the other half in a Dogma style. There should have been a bigger difference between the two halves. There should have been more of a “documentary” feel.’
I wondered about the extreme imagery in this film. Do you think that there’s any chance that including these shots in the film could maybe open the floodgates for other directors to push the envelope?
‘Yes – everybody should push envelopes.’
The film’s dedication at the end to Tarkovsky – a lot of people at Cannes were shocked to see that. Why Tarkovsky?
‘Have you ever seen a film called the “Mirror”? I was hypnotised! I’ve seen it 20 times. It’s the closest I’ve got to a religion – to me he is God. And if I didn’t dedicate the film to Tarkovsky, then everyone would say I was stealing from him. If you are stealing, then dedicate.’
You often work in trilogies – did you ever think that this could be a part of a trilogy?
‘The problem with a trilogy is always making the last one. You tend to be set up for the first two – and then you have to do a third which is always the most difficult. So please, don’t put that idea in my head.’
What is it about trilogies that appeal to you?
‘I’ve seen all of Bergman’s films, and there were two trilogies out of his 62, but he never himself recognised them as that. That was fascinating for me.’
Read our review of 'Antichrist'
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