Movie of the week: The House That Jack Built
This isn’t for everyone. In fact if you’re offended by violence, misogyny, (staged) torture and a white male behaving very badly, stop reading now. Plenty of headlines, social media posts and tweets will tell you what to think anyway, and no one ever needs to read further than that, do they? “Von Trier finally hits rock bottom,” announces the Sun-Herald’s Paul Byrnes. “Lars von Trier’s Serial-Killer Movie Is One Huge F–k You,” Rolling Stone says. 0/10 proclaims something called the Floated Alternative Culture Magazine.
So there you go – stay away*.
But please don’t tell me, as pretty well all critics and film buffs do – that you enjoy “dark” thrillers like Gone Girl, The Silence of the Lambs or the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. Or American Psycho, Hannibal, Fight Club – anything by David Fincher (Seven), any of Tarantino’s entire pseudo-sadistic back catalogue (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, The Hateful Eight) or the countless films of his many imitators. For what Lars von Trier is doing here, (and yes, it is his most “audacious” effort yet) is taking furious aim at contemporary popular culture’s immoral, cynical shift. No wonder so many critics are offended. They’ve reacted like puppy dogs having their noses rubbed in their own shit, and they’re annoyed. But the sly Danish moralist has not only stuck in the knife, he’s twisting it too. He wants them to feel ashamed. Like the voice of the mostly unseen character known as “Verge” (Bruno Ganz) commenting on serial killer Jack’s actions, he’s judging them, and by definition, all of western culture.
Admittedly it is difficult to watch Jack (Matt Dillion, very game and very good) kill and mutilate his victims, who, until the very last atrocity, are all female. Uma Thurman is his first, neatly turning Kill Bill on its fatuous pretty head, but such is von Trier’s skill as a filmmaker, you won’t be able to look away either, not even when Jack as a little boy cruelly cuts one leg off a baby duck and then puts it back in the pond to watch it helplessly swim in circles. Though I did flinch at Jack’s infamous “breast reduction surgery” (without an anaesthetic, ouch) scene, whereby Riley Keough has both completely sliced off… But as grotesque as that sounds, as filmed it’s also wildly cartoonish, and like his other blackly funny atrocities, bookended by David Bowie singing “Fame.”
Fame (fame), bully for you, chilly for me…
“Lars von Trier’s latest is … designed to inflame liberals” says Paul Byrnes again, deftly summing up his real crime. How dare he! Along with the carnage he also ruminates on art, architecture, concentration camps, Nazism, Glenn Gould’s piano skills, engineering acoustics and even how to make sweet wine, in fact there’s so much in this film’s lengthy 150 minutes that it’s almost impossible to unpack what it all means. Adventurous filmgoers who appreciate the cinema of discomfort will find plenty to think about though. And they’re also in for one of the most provocative and (dare I say it) wildly entertaining movies around. I know none of that will convince the doubters, the squeamish or anyone who likes their current PC certainties fed back to them via Hollywood committees. But then they’ve got Captain Marvel this week. R18+ from March 7. Local cinemas include Dendy Newtown and Burwood. ★★★★
Also opening this week
Back securely in the arthouse’s safety zone, celebrated Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past) takes us to Spain for another one of his usual intense, painful relationship dramas, this time adding (somewhat unsuccessfully) a whodunnit plot. Everybody Knows stars Ricardo Darín and Penelope Cruz as a married couple whose wild teenage daughter (Carla Campra) goes missing during a raucous wedding celebration (those Spaniards sure know how to party!) while Javier Bardem is the wife’s ex-flame. Everybody knows something about the extended family’s complicated past, and the investigation is soon soured by envy, greed and ancient recriminations. At some point, everybody is a suspect too, and you half expect Hercule Poirot himself to appear, twirl his moustache and announce what happened to the poor girl. Actually, the denouement is disappointing. The film is intensely watchable, and the drama up until then satisfyingly complex and tense, but it might have been a better if we’d never known. M from March 7 Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central and Dendy Newtown. ★★★
Disney hasn’t staged any media preview for its critic-proof Captain Marvel, but even if they did, I’m not on their list of approved reviewers. At any rate, its star Brie Larson told me to stay away. Look, she can think what she likes about our society’s current bogeymen, “over-40 white dudes” (as a white chic herself, presumably she excludes her dad and hopefully, co-star Ben Mendelsohn), but really, who does she think goes to these ridiculous Marvel comic book fantasies? Surely Disney’s promotion team if not their lawyers read her the riot act after her infamous comments (she’s now “clarified” them). The first law of marketing: Do not insult your customers – many of whom have predictably reacted like “giant man-babies” and stated they’ll stay away. If they do, Disney is in big trouble: They’s already signed Ms Larson for six sequels. M at Palace Norton St and everywhere else.(Not previewed)
Reviews – Russell Edwards