CANNES, FRANCE — On paper, this year’s lineup of assassins, vampires, and serial killers had the makings of the Goriest Cannes Ever, and so far, with the Quentin Tarantino and Sam Raimi films yet to premiere, we’re already feeling light-headed from the sheer amount of blood loss onscreen. The festival eased us into the butchery last week with fanboy-favorite Park Chan-wook’s stylish, gruesome vampire movie Thirst. But over the weekend, things started to get nasty: Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay — spoiler alert — ends with the rape, murder, and dismemberment of a prostitute named Madonna, whose body parts end up strewn through the outskirts of Manila. And since its premiere last night, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, with its instantly legendary scenes of mangled genitalia, has been pretty much the only movie anyone here is talking about.
Von Trier’s half-baked, crazy, utterly enthralling treatise on grief and gynophobia (a misogyny consultant is actually credited) was the first of this year’s competition films to be greeted with boos. In fact, it earned something like the holy trinity of Cannes press reactions: uproarious laughter (in response to a closing title card that read, “Dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky”), angry boos, and a countervailing round of applause. An indication of just how deeply its detractors despise the film: Von Trier was even booed at his press conference this afternoon, which devolved into an entertaining sadomasochistic psychodrama worthy of, well, a Lars von Trier movie.
An aggrieved British journalist kicked things off by demanding that the director “explain and justify why you made this movie.” Von Trier replied that he owed no explanations to anyone. “It’s the hand of God,” he said. “And I am the best film director in the world. I’m not sure if God is the best God in the world.” The questions were by turns hostile and placatory; Von Trier responded to everything in a hilariously smug deadpan. When someone suggested that Antichrist owed less to Tarkovsky’s arty meditations than to the B-movie schlock of Dario Argento, the director answered only with the most withering look of bewilderment and disgust. “You are all my guests,” he said at one point. “It’s not the other way around.” Given how completely he’s transformed Cannes, for the moment, into his own personal sideshow, it’s hard to argue with him.