'The House That Jack Built'
Lars von Trier has been banned from Cannes since 2011 when he joked about his own fascist tendencies. Invited back (but not in competition), the Danish master of the melancholic returns with a dark descent into damnation.
‘The House That Jack Built’ is a serial killer film like no other, tracing the title character (played by a stone-faced Matt Dillion) as he discusses with Verge (Bruno Ganz) some of the events of his life. Along the way, we meet the likes of Uma Thurman, Sofie Gråbøl, Sibohan Fallon Hogan and Riley Keough as Jack goes about his grand project, finding ways of sating his bloodlust.
The film can be read as the witer/director reflecting back on his own work, questioning fundamentally whether von Trier sees himself as criminal, victim, or a bit of both. As genre picture, sardonic comic, and cinematic criticism all rolled into one, it makes for a fascinating addition to the filmmaker’s body of work.
As the film becomes more and more macabre, it will challenge audiences even more, with even the most sympathetic unsure what to make of the many conflicting messages. For those that accept the dastardly pieces that make up the whole, there are real rewards to be gained, including a better understanding of one artist’s unending quest to make sense of the ineffable nature of his art.
It’s a killer film without any of the sanctimonious nonsense that safer works like ‘Dexter’ bring to the fore, instead being an unapologetic, at times obnoxious look at the messiness of both life and death. The film that may grow in prestige over time. If nothing else, it does remarkably well as a culmination of von Trier’s previous films, from the early, similarly themed ‘The Element of Crime’ through to his more recent provocations. Not for the faint of stomach, ‘The House That Jack Built’ nonetheless showcases an immense, complex talent whose works are always worthy of contemplation, even if the end result for many will be derision.