Where is Europe's enfant-terrible? Why, Lars Von Trier, of course. The last that I heard of this provocative, controversial Danish director was that he was building a house. And he called it The House That Jack Built. The movie was in the running for 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival – set to raise its curtain on May 8 – but did not figure in the list which the General-Delegate of the 12-day event on the French Riviera, Thierry Fremaux, announced in Paris on April 12.
Of course with only 18 titles listed in Competition and a mere 15 in A Certain Regard, there is still place for Jack, because the total number in both these categories is between 40 and 45. So, all those fans of Von Trier and his strong cinema – more so all those who love the auteur's tongue-in-cheek utterances with global ramifications – need not despair. No yet.
Now, why does Von Trier become special? Seven years ago, soon after screening his Competition movie, Melancholia, at Cannes, he addressed a Press conference where he quipped jocularly that he was a “Nazi sympathiser”. Half the world rose in disbelief and distress, and bayed for Von Trier's blood. The Festival was in a dilemma. The man was, after all, a star helmer, but given the kind of pressure which was exerted, the Festival had to declare him persona non-grata. He was asked to leave Cannes.
Von Trier felt foolish, and in what seemed like sheer childishness, went around for a while with a band over his mouth, implying that he would not speak any more. But then, let us not forget that he was European, one of Cannes' own men, and Fremaux soon forgave him and said that he was welcome back.
So, it was widely assumed that The House That Jack Built with Matt Dillon as a serial killer who goes about a 12-year murdering spree in the 1970s and 1980s America will be part of this year's Cannes. Fremaux of course left open the chances of Von Trier being in Cannes. "We'll know in a couple of weeks, I hope so," said Fremaux at the end of the Press conference raising the prospect that Von Trier's latest creation could follow the likes of Ruben Ostlund's The Square, which was a late addition to the 2017 lineup, and went on to win the Palme d'Or.
Those who had a chance to take a sneak peak into The House That Jack Built said that the film was “extremely brutal and violent”, comparing it to Von Trier's sexually graphic Antichrist, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe.
But then this is Von Trier. He always shocks – on screen as well, as I have been seeing. In 1996 he won the Grand Prize for Breaking The Waves. It was one of his very best, I think, and was all about how a woman is encouraged by her handicapped husband to have sex with strangers. The movie was a curious mix of religion and sex – each egging the other to push ahead.
In 2000, Von Trier clinched the Palm dÓr for his Dancer In The Dark with Bjork winning the acting trophy. Recently, she accused her director of sexual inappropriateness. Earlier, some actresses had made disparaging remarks about Von Trier's production house, Zentropa. They averred that the auteur was known to treat women shabbily and was guilty of sexual misconduct. Of course, I do not know the truth, but Von Trier can be a strange man. Prone to depression and mood swings – which he himself had admitted – he can be difficult and scandalous. But then, as some would argue , these are what make Von Trier so exciting.
And, imagine a Cannes without salacious stories. Like , for instance, in its early years, when an American starlet let her top slip before allowing a much married actor to help her regain her lost modesty! It gave a a titivating photo opportunity for all those shutterbugs on the beach.
The sandy shores of the Mediterranean Sea have been the scene of many such events: time was when bare-chested girls would play games on the beach. Time was when some of them would strip on the sands for photographers out there to make a quick buck. The girls would hope that the pictures would catch the eye of some casting director.
All this is now gone. Sex is now passe. Even the cinema which Cannes shows is far more sober than what it was in my early years there. What now gets Cannes on a delirious high is men like Von Trier, and with him around, there is never a dull moment.
So, here is hoping that he will troop into Cannes (by road, because he is mortally scared of flying) with Jack and his House!
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 28 years, and may be e-mailed at email@example.com