Q&A: Antichrist Director Lars Von Trier

20 July 2009 by Tim Evans

Lars Von Trier 3"Nobody has beaten me up..."We speak to Lars Von Trier, the Danish director behind the most controversial movie of the year. His first foray into horror - Antichrist - is not for the weak-hearted...or the less-than-strong-stomached.

He's the maverick film-maker who founded the revolutionary Dogme 95 movement, was horrid to Bjork and obliges Charlotte Gainsbourg to do unspeakable things with a pair of rusty scissors in his latest Cannes-baiting offering. Tim Evans got the low-down...

Sky Movies: Antichrist. Well, it’s certainly provocative...

Lars Von Trier: You think so?

SM: Can you tell me the genesis of the film, where did it come from?

LVT: It came from a wish to make a horror film. I saw some modern Japanese horror films that I liked very much – The Ring and Dark Water. When I do something it does not always turn out the way I thought – it becomes a fusion between different stuff.

SM: What was it about those Japanese films that made such a mark?

TG - Antichrist (4)Dafoe and GainsbourgLVT: They gave an insight into a sort of cultural way of presenting images that I hadn’t seen before – I thought it was very refreshing. The thing about the horror genre is that it allows you to do quite strange things.

SM: American horror films are very formulaic – were you making a conscious decision to break away from that?

LVT: I’ve seen the classics, of course, The Shining and Carrie, but it’s never been a genre that I’ve really loved.

SM: Because it was such a departure, did you regard it as an experiment?

LVT: Yeah, you could say that. But everything I have done has been experimental. I’m not mainstream and I do not like the idea of reproducing something. I like to keep it fresh somehow.
Lares Von Trier 2With the Antichrist cast...
SM: It’s a two-hander – Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. How did you go about getting them on board.

LVT:  They (the characters) were actually supposed to be younger then Willem wrote me a letter asking if I had anything for him this autumn. I said ‘sure, sure – be my guest,” I showed him the script and he accepted it. With Charlotte we looked at many actresses but their agents had problems with the film. I saw Charlotte in a film and she said straightaway that she wanted to do the film.

SM: When you presented them with the script, how did they react?

LVT: Willem was a little mixed about it. My wife said to him, over a very nice breakfast, ‘I’m sure you dare not do it?’ Then, of course, he had to do it.  Charlotte came up to me and told me she was dying to get the part. So that’s what you want to hear. During the shoot, the actors were very nice to me, they could see that I was maybe not at my best.

With the sex and the violence and nudity and whatever, there were no problems at all.

Breaking The WavesBreaking The WavesSM: In the prologue, a child dies quite graphically. To get away with that you really have to be in command of your subject matter. How did you go about establishing that?

LVT: I hadn’t thought about that. When I go and make a film I have quite a clear picture about how it’s going to look and how to tell the story.

SM: How do you plot the story out? Where did the story come from?

LVT: I must admit I was in a very poor state when I wrote the script. I’d just had a long depression and this story was my way of getting out of it...believe it or not.

SM: As it progresses, it gets increasingly graphic. Some film-makers would say that you give the audience an inkling and let their imagination do the rest.

Dancer in the DarkDancer in the DarkLVT: You could say that. To me if I make a film that is about sex it would be wrong for me not to show it.

SM: I was thinking of more the violence than the sex

LVT: The splatter thing? (laughs) It’s nothing that I’ve ever discussed with my producer or anybody or even had any doubts about.

SM: One thing that is striking is that it is beautifully filmed (by Slumdog Millionaire cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle)

LVT: I’ve worked with Anthony for many years. I very much like the monumental shots and the film is very stylised. The rest of the film – to my tastes – could have been a lot more documentary-like.

SM: Was the artist Hieronymous Bosch an influence?

Lares Von TrierLVT: Yes, he’s a magnificent artist. But my main influence was (the Russian director) Andrei Kartovsky.I was very, very fond of his film The Mirror. He has a fantastic way of portraying nature and I was stealing so much that I had to dedicate the film to him.

SM: It caused the predictable storm at Cannes – do you like winding them up?

LVT: It’s not my intention. When I do a film I’m very concentrated. If I do not think of the audience, which I claim I don’t, then I certainly do not think of the critics.

They walk out and they boo and whatever. To me, it’s a very good reaction. As long as you have a little group of people who like the film when a lot of people will hate it, then it’s alright with me. Even if you walk out you walk out with some kind of emotion.

TG - Antichrist (3)Gainsbourg in AntichristSM: You’ve been quoted as saying you don’t make a film for the audience. Was that a flippant remark or do you really mean that?

LVT: I really mean that...but it doesn’t mean that an audience can’t see the film. What it means is that I do the film for myself – it’s the film I want to see. If that works for an audience that’s fine...but I can only use myself as a measurement.

SM: Do you still drive to Cannes from Denmark?

LVT: Oh yes – it takes a very long time!

SM: It’s a bit of an ordeal before you’ve even got to Cannes

LVT: And then it’s an ordeal to be in Cannes...and then an ordeal to get back.

SM: What have you thought about the reaction to the film?

LVT: Well, nobody has beaten me up or castrated me. I think it went altogether quite well.