The Danish provocateur, back at Cannes after a seven-year ban, is on maddening form with a dreary, nasty serial killer thriller partly redeemed by its spectacular finale
Lars von Trier, the giggling charlatan-genius of world cinema, has returned in a kind of triumph to the Cannes playground of provocation from which he was temporarily exiled in 2011, having miscalculated a Nazi gag at a press conference, and proved unable or unwilling to walk it back. He has reappeared to give the finger to all America’s liberal complainers, with a film that casts Uma Thurman – yes, the male-auteur-nemesis Uma Thurman – as the very, very stupid victim of a serial killer, a film that also mocks the sexual politics of grievance and for good measure makes light of tightening up America’s gun laws.
His latest tongue-in-cheek nightmare The House That Jack Built is two and a half hours long but seems much longer – longer than Bayreuth, more vainglorious than Bayreuth. It is an ordeal of gruesomeness and tiresomeness that was every bit as exasperating as I had feared. But it concludes with what I also have to concede is a spectacular horror finale that detonated an almighty épat here in Cannes. The film ends with a colossal but semi-serious bang, an extravagant visual flourish and a cheeky musical outro over the closing credits to leave you laughing in spite of yourself as the house lights come up. But there is silliness and smirkiness where Von Trier believes the delicious black comedy to be.
As ever, this is a pseudo-American Psycho, set in an America that looks heartsinkingly like the forests of Denmark or perhaps Germany, locations in which the appearance of American automobiles and American actors look almost surreally out of place. There is supposedly a place called “Carlson’s Supermarket” near one of these very remote chalets, and although we don’t see this store, we see its brown bag with its logo. I don’t think I have ever seen a more obviously faked artefact in a film in my life.