Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist has thus-far failed to make much of an impact throughout Europe (see first post below), but the British media loves a sex-and-violence controversy, it’s silly season, and the film opens on 38 screens this Friday so the papers have been full of it, prompted by hysterical press releases from distributor Artificial Eye, whipping up the UK media like a giant, outraged meringue.
Anti the Antichrist
“Antichristwas given an 18 certificate by the BBFC and remains completely uncut, despite scenes containing explicit penetrative sex and masturbation, extreme torture and genital mutilation,” thundered the company’s own press release. “The poster image has been BANNED for use on the London underground” [their capitals].
Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail whizzed right in, with Christopher Hart reassuring his readers by saying: “You do not need to see Lars von Trier’s Antichrist to know how revolting it is. I haven’t seen it myself, nor shall I - and I speak as a broad-minded arts critic, strongly libertarian in tendency.”
“Critics have called it the most shocking and graphically violent film ever to be screened at Cannes,” added The Telegraph, presumably referring to critics who actually watch the films they’re talking about.
So while The Telegraph called Antichrist “the year’s most shocking film”, the bad news for these fragile flowers is that they ain’t seen nothing yet
But back to the Artificial Eye press release, possibly more entertaining than the film itself: “Early UK preview screenings have seen people run for the exit during the final scenes, physically retching,” it continues.
“Antichrist flyers have even been sabotaged by outraged members of the public, ripped from display stands and destroyed.”
Personally, I remember shouts of laughter at the Palais screening at Cannes – and I’m tempted to quote the talking fox: “Chaos reigns”. But in these difficult times you’ve can’t be afraid to look desperate when it comes to packing in your 38 screens or else you’ll end up like France, $1.2m after eight weeks – and it launched on a confident 119 screens there (the film has now nudged up to $3.8m worldwide).
Whatever the merits of Antichrist, the hyperbole has raised an interesting question, What was the most shocking and graphically violent film at Cannes this year?
There was certainly much to choose from as directors went grimly, humourlessly over-the-top - although it’s probably hard to show your character cracking a joke if they’re in pain from internal injuries occasioned by super-violent sex.
People were rammed into walls, toilet seats, mirrors, shower-heads even, jabbed and thrust at from every angle, clothes grasped and ripped. They were raped, abused, ritually tortured, sucked, hammered, crushed, excavated, dismembered - in the Mills & Boon sense of the word “member” – all in the name of sex. Shanghai to Seoul, London to Los Angeles, it was all joyless and uncomfortable: cutting-edge arthouse auteurs are certainly not into the missionary position.
So while TheTelegraph called Antichrist “the year’s most shocking film” (is that premature ejaculation?) and the Times called for it to be banned, the bad news for these fragile flowers is that they ain’t seen nothing yet (and in Mr Hart’s case, that’s certainly the truth). The rest of the Competition line-up had plenty to challenge Von Trier’s pair of rusty scissors and a set of exposed labia.
Sex and violence on the Riviera
So here’s a quick study on the Cannes crop as the titles open in tabloid-friendly markets:
- Lou Ye opened the festival with Spring Fever. Not only is the director banned by communist China and the film is unauthorised, but its main character, in sequences believed to be real, is pulverized against a shower stall in the name of gay sex. And he’s a virgin! While you or I might have asked how to say 999 in Mandarin, he’s pretty quickly back for round two.
- The Koreans really go for it in Thirst, a 153-minute epic about a priapic vampire - a priest, no less (could the Catholic church be stirred to outrage in time for its UK/US release?). Copious, wearying In The Realm of the Senses-style sex and sucking throughout, and a brief glimpse of Song Kang-ho’s penis, notable as he’s such a big star at home.
- Isabel Coixet probably thought she’d ring up some headlines with Sergei Lopez and Rinko Kikuchi heading off to a love motel for close-up thrusting action in Map of the Sounds of Tokyo. Snooze! Sergei and Rinko may be having an impossible close-up-on-the-genitalia affair which is depressing to all who witness it, but these days you need to do a Charlotte
Gainsbourg and take the scissors out if you want press releases IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
- Kinatay. Filipino director Brilliante Mendoza delivered what could be read as a searing indictment of his country’s attitude towards women – or you could also see it as an ultra-violent film in which a woman is kidnapped, beaten, tortured, graphically dismembered, her body parts put into plastic bags and shoved on rubbish heaps outside Manila.
- Gaspar Noe’s druggy, sex-and-death obsessed Enter The Void features an extended, final, exhaustive sex sequence cut between the walls of a hotel in which couples are seemingly screwing for their lives; cue much close-up footage of thrusting penises and sex toys with a heavenly-like light emanating from the recipient vaginas. Then there’s Noe’s graphic sequence involving an abortion which cuts through the eyes of a dead foetus into a bird’s eye view of the moment of conception (the camera taking the penis’s POV up through the vagina). Yes, this left Lars Von Trier and his blood-spurting willy looking a little lonely off in Eden. Enter The Void was definitely Cannes’ most graphic film, the longest, and, possibly, the most shocking.
But then again, there’s always Bruno…