New Von Trier Sparks The Ire Of Cannes Critics

A year ago I was downright giddy at the intense reaction the critics at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival had for Darren Aronofsky's next film mother! What can I tell ya, I still don't buy in to Jennifer Lawrences schtick and Aronofsky's enfant terrible wasn't justifiable when the last undeniably earth shattering film he made was the forever derided The Fountain (stop yourself and watch it again, just trust me). So when I heard that Aronofsky's return to horror, seemingly taking a pretentious page from Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, was getting absolutely draaaaaagged at Cannes I was beside myself. Our world is in a torrid love affair with schadenfreude.

But then I saw mother! and...well, here I am writing to you. Unbeknownst to me, the wealth of inspiration I found in Aronofsky's masterpiece led me to write my first ever piece on film. And from there I haven't stopped. But what makes mother! so good is in direct opposition to what an enumerable amount of European and state-side critics deplore: challenging experimentation with the cinematic form. Because of the machinations of filmmaking, truly daring experimentation very rarely is seen by the public in such broad strokes. In live theatre we see experimentation of form all the time, authors and creatives mining new and interesting ways to present age-old stories. But in film, more often than not, this level of play is relegated to strictly independent passion projects where time and money are no factors. And due to their high profile, critics seemingly themselves take even more of an affront to experimentation than general audiences. Because they know how a film should be, any retooling is met with contempt.

It's not to say that the critics "didn't get" the film, but rather they were offended by the audacity of Aronofsky to go against the established grain. To present his ideas like the world of modern art and live theatre: a series of events/actions tied around a central theme, warts and all. The messiness, the daring, the choices that he made in creating this film seeped into audiences who were starved for a "shake-up", and not in the way that a film like Get Out "shook-up" Hollywood. Aronofsky was playing in a sandbox that reflected an amalgamation of the avant garde independent art from Jodorowsky to Waters, relishing in exquisite trash cinema. 

You've had conversations like this before if you're a part of the Horror Community (which the only requirement is a deep rooted love of the ever expanding and all encompassing horror genre). Artistic intention is forever derided over personal conviction. The type of critic that walks out of a film like mother! is far more likely to think "I find this film to be evil, so it must have been made by evil people." rather than asking themselves 'This film is filled with personally distasteful content, and it's making me feel a certain emotional extreme, why does this artist wish to make me feel this way?" 

Which ultimately is now what is happening to Lars Von Trier with his new film The House That Jack Built. Here are a few choice quotes pulled from Twitter:

  • “Just left Lars Von Trier’s The House that Jack Built. Gross. Pretentious. Vomitive. Torturous. Pathetic”
     
  • “Walked out on LarsvonTrier [sic]. Vile movie. Should not have been made. Actors culpable,”
     
  • "Not surprised. Lars has gone too far this time. Guess he will be banned again lol."
     
  • "why can’t Lars von Trier just make a normal fcking movie for once. pushing limits is one thing but he’s just a complete sadist expressing his narcissism and contempt for the world through his art."

These last two quotes specifically made me pause and reflect, as they specifically relate to an interesting take on the nature of art. In the first quote the writer says that Von Trier has "gone too far" while the second opines that it's not about 'pushing limits' but rather Von Trier is simply displaying sadistic pleasure in his utter "contempt for the world" but channeling it into his art. 

But what is the cinematic art form if not a mode to challenge and discover the inner truths about ourselves, as sticky and grotesque as that may be? Why would anyone go to the Cannes Film Festival if not to see art pushed to the limit? If life truly occurs only at the vapor point, why must we discourage artists from toeing that precipice? 

And if it's all too much for you, why don't you just look away? You're bound to see something much worse later on the nightly news.

(Author Note: It goes without saying...we haven't see LVT 'snewest film. Do we LOOK like an outlet that gets Cannes credentials yet? This piece is neither for nor against Von Triers film, but rather a personal statement on how we view art that challenges parts of the human condition that we do not like to witness. But if you are reading this, congratulations on not skimming the piece! Your checks in the mail.)