This morning a film-fanatic friend said his biggest hope for the ’18 Cannes Film Festival is Lars von Trier’s serial killer flick, The House That Jack Built. My immediate response was “really?” Von Trier’s weakness, I explained, “is that he feels he has to be the visionary blunt tool — a stylistically unrefined bad boy. And so he has to deliver provocative films of a certain extreme quality. And so a bad-boy movie about a serial killer…well, c’mon. You can sense what’s in store.”
The truth is that I haven’t really felt the Von Trier love since Dogville (’03) and more particularly the brilliant and shattering Dancer in the Dark (’00), which I still regard as one of the most exciting and innovative musicals of all time.
Everyone was with Von Trier in the ’90s (Breaking The Waves, The Idiots). I started to disengage with Manderlay (’05), never saw The Boss Of It All (’06), really hated Antichrist (’09), was moderately okay with Melancholia (’11), and felt mostly distanced by the “intelligent, jaggedly assembled, dispassionate wank” that was Nymphomaniac, Volume One. I called Nymphomaniac, Volume Two “a cinematic equivalent of a ‘cold spot’ in a haunted house.”
Set in the ’70s and ’80s, Von Trier’s latest follows Jack (Matt Dillon) over the course of 12 years and five increasingly risky murders. From an official synopsis: “Jack views each murder as an artwork in itself, even though his dysfunction gives him problems in the outside world.”
In February 2017 Von Trier described the film as “celebrating the idea that life is evil and soulless, which is sadly proven by the recent rise of the homo Trumpus — the rat king.”
It’s been reported that at least four of the victims are women, and will be played by Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Grabol and Riley Keough. This aspect alone is sure to reignite charges that Von Trier is some kind of compulsive misogynist, especially in this #MeToo tinderbox era. The brutal punishings suffered by his female characters over the years — Bjork‘s in Dancer in the Dark, Emily Watson‘s in Breaking The Waves, Nicole Kidman‘s in Dogville, Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s in Antichrist and Nymphomaniac — provide fuel for this hypothesis.
Bruno Ganz will reportedly play a “mysterious figure named Verge, who engages Jack in a recurring conversation about his actions and thoughts” — one of those interior-dialogue phantom characters.
During a March ’17 press conference Von Trier said that Jack is going to be on the disturbingly vivid side. “There were so many people we sent the script to, who said they would do anything to work with me, except this script,” he said.
Von Trier also expressed a fundamental gloom and suggested that his career might be coming to an end. “I feel like shit,” he said. “I have so much anxiety. I think I’m getting too old for this. Just to work on the set and rush around with some actors, even though they are very sweet, it is a challenge of dimensions. I don’t think I can make any more films after this one.”
Filming began in March ’17 in Bengtsfors, Sweden, and finishing the following May in Copenhagen, Denmark.
If and when The House That Jack Built plays in Cannes two months hence, it will be Von Trier’s first Cote d’Azur showing since he was banned from Cannes in ’11 following a Hitler joke at a Melancholia press conference.
Excerpt from HE’s Nymphomanic, Volume Two review, posted on 3.18.14:
“What was that Jack Crawford line in The Silence of the Lambs? ‘Trust me, Clarice — you don’t want Hannibal Lecter in your head.’ Same deal here. Be brave and catch Nymphomaniac, Volume One with your girlfriend or boyfriend, but under no circumstances should you and yours see Volume Two together. You really don’t want Lars Von Trier in your head or coloring your relationship issues or anything along those lines.
“I know, I know –— if a filmmaker has upset a critic to this degree he/she is probably doing something right. Perhaps. I only know that I miss the guy who directed Breaking The Waves and The Idiots and especially Dancer in the Dark. Yeah, I know — stop living in the past.”