In a N.Y. Times profile of Willem Dafoe (which is more or less linked to a forthcoming Public Theatre production of a play called Idiot Savant), Dave Itzkoff discusses the actor being “dismayed” about last May’s Cannes Film Festival reception to Lars von Trier‘s Antichrist, in which Dafoe stars. The press screening was “a raucous” thing “that drew boos and mocking laughs,” Itzkoff notes.
“It’s a hothouse environment, and they like scandal,” Dafoe comments. “You see who holds the cards and what plays, what doesn’t play. Where the idiots are, where the thoughtful people are. And for the most part the idiots win. But that’s okay.”
That’s not a fair or correct assessment of the Cannes press corps. They might generate an uproar after seeing a film that seems ludicrously wrong or overwrought in some way, but they don’t go looking for scandal — the critics I know are low-key types who take ’em as the come. That said, if a movie happens to be a major wipeout on its own terms they won’t hesitate to point that out. Nobody gets a sweetheart pass in Cannes.
Dafoe says he “saw the project as a challenge to strike the right balance between controlling himself and letting himself go. How, for example, should he play a scene where he is spoken to by the carcass of a dead fox, or where Ms. Gainsbourg drives a rod through his leg and attaches a millstone to that rod?
“‘You just have to do what makes sense for you,’ Dafoe replies. ‘One man’s hammy overacting is another man’s passionate acting. One man’s boring, flat walk-through performance is another’s beautifully restrained performance.'” Phooey…that’s just evasion. Antichrist was a stacked deck against which no actor could prevail. There’s no way to play a scene with a bloody talking dead fox without looking like a fool.
A couple of hours after the infamous Cannes Antichrist screening I wrote that “there’s no way [the film] isn’t a major career embarassment for costars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and a possible career stopper for Von Trier. I know that if I had been in Dafoe or Gainsbourg’s shoes I would have come to my senses and walked off the film. I would have said ‘go ahead, sue me — I welcome a lawsuit!’ and walked home proudly and at peace.”