At the press conference in Cannes, and partly in response to a journalist’s idiotic request for him to justify his film, Lars Von Trier said something about being the greatest film director in the world. I don’t think he meant it really but he might not be far off the mark.
Though I have not liked some of his films, (heartily recommend his unfinished television series The Kingdom, The Idiots, and Boss of It All) he is one of the few working directors who both manage to get their films some sort of distribution and also stretch the very limits of the medium. Others that seem to share his brilliance, technical excellence and sheer audacity are the late Kubrick, some David Lynch and even more so Guy Maddin (see discussion of Cowards Bend the Knee or My Winnipeg) .
Indeed, as much as it is an absolutely unique work, Antichrist does echo some elements of those directors (Kubrick’s formalism and slow forward zoom, Lynch’s moving in close to reveal hitherto unsuspected corruption, and Maddin’s impressionism). There is little doubt that this is a masterpiece of cinema.
It is no secret that this is quite a controversial film and that some images are quite disturbing but there also images of unbelievable beauty. But what amazes me about this director is how he challenges ever aspect of how a film is made. (This is a film that astonishes you once then you watch the extras and need to watch it again to marvel at the techniques discussed by the crew (such as the 6000 frame a second camera shots)). He is also absolutely fearless in content, and managed to get Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg to join him in what can only be very inadequately described as pushing the envelope. Very few actors could have been as brave as these two.
He’s not for everyone but thank god he is around because there are thousands of directors who can pull off a competent genre pic, and thousands more who can’t but still pull the audiences, but only a few who actually approach film as art. In film, Trier is somewhat like Ferran Adria is to food with his molecular gastronomy, where he redefines what you didn’t think could be.