Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 2:01AM
To my knowledge, only one person in the last hundred years or so has been able to get away with calling himself the greatest. And now everyone else refers to Muhammad Ali the same way, so it's rather hard to argue. But Lars von Trier? The same von Trier whose brand new film was met with a cascade of boos at the usually enthusiastic Cannes Film Festival?
“I am the best film director in the world,” von Trier said the day after people walked out of a screening of his controversial film, which features, among other things, mutilated genitalia. “This knowledge I have that I am the best director, I see it as true.” “I am sure other directors may feel the same, [but] maybe they don't say it,” he told reporters. “I am not sure I am. I just think I am.”
So how does he defend his highly-anticipated Antichrist following a reaction described as "derisive laughter, gasps of disbelief, a smattering of applause and loud boos"?
"I can't justify myself," he explained, prompting the immediate follow-up of why he even made the film. “I enjoyed making it,” he answered. "I work for myself. I haven’t done it for you or for an audience. I don’t think I owe anybody an explanation.”
I see two problems with this, outside his grossly poor judgment that he's the world's best director. 1) If you didn't make it for anybody but yourself, don't go to one of the biggest film events of the year to show it off, and 2) Don't talk to the world's assembled media the day after it creates a storm of controversy.
But von Trier also contradicts his own insipid argument that he doesn't make movies for an audience, pronouncing in the notes for the film, "I would like to invite you for a tiny glimpse behind the curtain. A glimpse into the dark world of my imagination: into the nature of my fears, into the nature of Antichrist.”
Hey, if you didn't make it for me, do us both a favor and don't invite me in. Or if you do invite me in, be prepared to answer for the work, especially at a film festival. Seriously, the minute you pick up the phone and talk to a prospective financier or sign a contract with Willem Dafoe, you are no longer in making-movies-for-Lars business. That's what diaries are for.Film is more communal than most other forms of popular entertainment, which has something to do with hundreds of seats in every theater. It is intended to be viewed by audiences, discussed by audiences, and put into a certain perspective by audiences. Films are connected by each other, and Cannes is a wonderful example of that. This year, the festival is honoring Martin Scorsese, who could legitimately claim to be the greatest director alive if he didn't have simple, instinctive human modesty. But he's also the most inclusive director who has ever lived. He watches, appreciates, and borrows a little bit from everything, thereby creating his own voice, and he expects younger filmmakers to do the same with his projects.
To be fair, the Cannes audience has been wrong countless times, although it generally doesn't outwardly react so negatively. I'm still curious to see Antichrist; I'm not squeamish, so graphic content doesn't really impact me either way, unless it's just salacious and adds nothing to the film.I have liked and hated von Trier films in the past, and there's not much middle ground with him. But even without The Reaction on the Riviera, it would be rather hard to take a claim like that seriously.