Cannes 2009: The Tomato Report ? Antichrist Shocks, Eric Delights

As Von Trier rubs Cannes the wrong way, Ken Loach?s comedy is a hit.

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Say what you like about Lars von Trier, the director never fails to find controversy. To one degree or another, most of his films have provoked comment for their themes and for von Trier's passion for breaking taboos. Antichrist, which premiered at Cannes yesterday, for all that has come before, may well be Von Trier's most controversial film yet.

The story of a husband and wife (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) who retreat to their woodland paradise "Eden" in the wake of the accidental death of their young child. There they hope to heal their grief and repair the fractures within their marriage, but as emotions heighten and nature closes in, things, as the press notes declare, go from bad to worse.

An experience apparently shared by critics in the packed press screening on Sunday evening. It was quite the most unusual reaction we've ever seen from a Cannes crowd. As the film got more and more violent and outlandish an exploration of the pattern of grief, so critics were at turns wincing at self-mutilation and laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Von Trier writes, by way of an introduction to the film, that it was the product of depression two years ago that made him wonder if he'd ever make another film. He also writes that it's the most important film of his career. As the credits rolled, it received equal parts boos and applause and we're fairly sure some of those applauding were at the same time booing, such was the strange provocation of von Trier's subject matter.

Cannes 2009
Gainsbourg and Dafoe get physical, a lot, in Antichrist.

Nine reviews have so far been collected on the Tomatometer, and the range of reaction in those reviews seems to suggest a similar pattern -- some impressed by the confidence with which von Trier approached the material, some unimpressed that he seemed to use shock for no other reason than to get his point across.

Most humorously, Todd McCarthy writes that von Trier, "cuts a big fat art-film fart," with Antichrist. He adds, "this may prove a great date movie for pain-is-pleasure couples. Otherwise, most of the director's usual fans will find this outing risible, off-putting or both while the artiness quotient is far too high for mainstream-gore groupies."

Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwarzbaum was similarly unimpressed, complaining that, "it's one good-looking, publicity-grabbing provocation, with an overlay of pseudo-Christian allegory thrown in to deflect a reasonable person's accusations of misogyny."

Damon Wise for Empire was quick to defend its importance, though. "It's not a film I can recommend," he says, "but it's definitely something I can say is worth seeing if you want to see where film history has been, is at, and can go."

Cannes 2009
Ken Loach meets Man Utd. footballer Eric Cantona.

Far from provoking Cannes critics, in yet another quirk of Cannes programming, Ken Loach's Looking For Eric is a delightful comedy that warmed the hearts of even the most jaded critics. Loach won the Palme d'Or here in 2006 when he brought The Wind That Shakes the Barley to the festival, and all eyes were on him to make it a double. The film is the tale of a postman's encounter with one of his heroes, Manchester United soccer legend Eric Cantona, and how this encounter helps him turn his life around.

The film, "looks set to be Loach's biggest mainstream hit," writes Ray Bennett in The Hollywood Reporter, while Derek Elley in Variety comments that, "when it works, Eric has many incidental pleasures."

Hometown critics in the UK were especially enamored. "The film's triumph lies in the two relationships at its heart," explains Dave Calhoun for Time Out. "The unlikely rapport between the two Erics, little and big, which is unusual, amusing and affecting."

James Christopher in The Times had some of the kindest words for the film. "Ken Loach couldn't have painted a more perfect, bitter-sweet picture for Cannes," he writes. "It would be a sensation if Loach [won the Palme d'Or] with a comedy."

Join us again for more from Cannes, as Pedro Almodovar premieres Broken Embraces starring Penelope Cruz. You can catch up on all our Cannes coverage here.