Challenging the line between art and provocative entertainment, Lars von Trier is one of the most divisive filmmakers of all time, both adored and despised by critics across the world. In spite of his intentions, however, you cannot argue that he isn’t a proficient filmmaker, winning the Palme d’Or in 2000 for his dark musical Dancer in the Dark starring Björk and Catherine Deneuve.
Often deliberately contentious, Lars von Trier is not a voice of vapid cinema, innovating with every addition to his growing filmography. Challenging the fabric of the film itself with experimental technique, the Danish-born director is known for his technically innovative feature films that confront dark, sadistic and deeply human subjects.
Exploring existential concepts of sexual desire and human violence in films like Nymphomaniac and Antichrist, von Trier is both cinema’s boldest and most controversial mainstream voice. Such a daring voice has attracted the likes of actors Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia LaBeouf, Mia Goth, Uma Thurman, Jamie Bell, Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman and many more, with each wishing to help bring his spectacular visions to life.
Though he has created several films that shock and disgust audiences, little compares to his 2018 film The House that Jack Built, starring Matt Dillon as a savage serial killer. Telling the fictional story of the sadistic murderer over the course of 12 years, von Trier’s film doesn’t shy away from showing the true extent of Jack’s violent ways, with scenes including the protagonist cutting a woman’s breast off as well as shooting two children in the head.
Audience members at the time slammed the movie for being “vile” and “disgusting” and, as a result, 100 people walked out of the screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. But for the Danish filmmaker, this number was simply not enough.
“It is important that a film divides. I am disappointed that it was only 100 people that vomited. I would have liked 200 people to vomit,” the director told The Irish Times, describing those who protested the film by running out the cinema.
Home to several strange traditions, Cannes is known for its practice of ‘mass walkouts’ for movies that simply don’t cut the mustard. Usually, this notorious mark of protest is reserved for horror movies or European arthouse flicks that push the boundaries of good taste and strive for something controversial. Headlines for the number of people to walk out of a film are often shared with the film that was awarded the longest standing ovation, with the marching of critics’ feet from their seats being seen as something of a strange triumph for divisive filmmakers.
Speaking about the premiere of his film to The Guardian, the director further stated, “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”.
Featuring strong violence against women and children, Lars von Trier’s latest movie remains his most polarising, and most certainly his most self-indulgent.