For Danish film director Lars von Trier, the outrage that greeted “Antichrist” at the Cannes festival in May was music to his ears.
Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe as a couple who struggle to cope with the loss of their young son, the psychological horror story drew gasps, groans, jeers and just a few cheers when it was screened at the annual cinema showcase.
Explicit scenes of love-making, graphic violence and sexual self-mutilation, not to mention a talking fox, made Antichrist one of the most talked-about films at the festival for years.
Von Trier was angrily asked to justify his film at a press conference and early reviews generally agreed that the film was misogynistic, deliberately provocative and turgid.
But typically for a director who has polarized opinion throughout his career, not everyone hated it. The Telegraph gave the dark story of death and self-loathing a top rating.
“I feel very good about it,” von Trier told Reuters, when asked about the negative reaction to his film.
“If you’d asked me before how should a film reception be, it should be something like that,” he said in a telephone interview ahead of the film’s theatrical release in Britain on July 24. It has been given an 18 rating and will be shown in its entirety.
“It suits me fine that people get out of the cinema with some kind of an emotion. That’s very good.”
Von Trier, often referred to as the “enfant terrible” of contemporary cinema, has avoided reading reviews, although he suggested he was not impervious to what people said.
“I don’t think I’ve read one review,” he said. “I think the film is like a kid, you know, it has to live its own life. Of course, I would like a phone call now and then.”
Hits and missesWhether the controversy surrounding “Antichrist” will boost its box office prospects remains to be seen.
“I am really an idiot when it comes to what helps a film commercially,” said von Trier. “Every time I’m sure I made a hit then I made a complete disaster.”
The director is probably best known for “Breaking the Waves” and Cannes winner “Dancer in the Dark,” while “Dogville” and “Manderlay,” filmed on a bare sound stages, also created a stir.
But von Trier called “Antichrist” the most important movie of his career, possibly because it was his way of coping with a lengthy bout of depression.
“It was mostly the practical thing — if you do a film then you are really involved in it and it’s difficult to be depressed at the same time.”
The director repeated his statement in Cannes that he did not have an audience in mind when he made films.
“I work for myself as an audience, and if I like it then I hope that some other people will be able to use it somehow,” said von Trier, who has also called himself “the best film director in the world.”
He said he did not know what movie he would make next, adding: “I’m waiting to hear from God, really.”
Despite converting to Catholicism in the 1990s, reportedly after his mother told him on her deathbed that the person he thought was his father was not, he said he had no faith.
“I would say that I am a poor Christian, I’m not a believer. It was this idea very early in my life that life on earth, nature or man could not be a creation of a merciful God.”