The House That Jack Built: Lars von Trier’s Best Work Yet?

US actor Matt Dillon (L) and Danish director Lars Von Trier attend the photocall for the 'The House That Jack Built' during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on...

Although the Danish filmmaker has been working since the late sixties - beginning his career in cardboard animation with short film The Trip to Squash Land - he didn’t exactly rise to prominence until 1996’s Breaking the Waves.

He had made interesting films such as Europa, but the operatic-drama starring Emily Watson was a truly pivotal piece of work. He then went into TV with the twisted comedy series The Kingdom and worked within the Dogme 95 collective alongside such filmmakers as Harmony Korine (Julien Donkey Boy, Spring Breakers). Many years later and he is considered one of the most prominent modern filmmakers.

The director has never been afraid to explore the darkest realms of the human condition, and has done so effectively and creatively in such efforts as his 2003 masterpiece Dogville and the hauntingly cruel Bjork vehicle Dancer in the Dark. He certainly has many acclaimed, divisive and unique projects to his credit, but it’s his “The Depression Trilogy” for which he is perhaps now best known for. This loosely coined collection of work began with Antichrist in 2009 - by far the director’s most graphic and difficult work - and continued into 2011’s Melancholia, which was incredibly well received by critics. Then came Nymphomaniac, which was released as a two-part tale in 2013; an intriguing study which many found difficult to swallow, but equally, was praised by others. Five years later he is back, and after being welcomed back to the Cannes Film Festival after a ban for comments about Adolf Hitler, his film premiered to famous festival audiences once again. 

The Moscow premiere of The House That Jack Built horror film written and directed by Danish film director and screenwriter Lars von Trier at the Illyuzion cinema. Sergei FadeichevThe Moscow premiere of The House That Jack Built horror film written and directed by Danish film director and screenwriter Lars von Trier at the Illyuzion cinema. Sergei Fadeichev

The House That Jack Built stars Matt Dillon as a serial killer, who recounts five murders at random from over a twelve-year period. Although it doesn’t sound like it, fans of the filmmaker won’t be surprised to hear that it is first and foremost a comedy. Of course, there are scenes that are absolutely disturbing, and of which prompted mass walkouts at Cannes with many claiming he should never have been allowed back. Yet, moments of dread are laced with pitch-black humour that only von Trier would be bold enough to pull off. The laughs are oddly consistent too, and it’s hard to think of one set-piece - apart from the one which has caused so much controversy - that doesn’t manage to remain conflictingly humorous.

The comedy stems from the overall vision. This is not a view of reality, but rather a bleak interpretation of the world around us from one of its key filmmakers. Von Trier’s observations of society are exaggerated to comedic effect but still constitute a deep purpose; policeman are caricatured, but the world of Jack still feels to harbour some amplified truths. He can be categorised as a director of excess, without ever having to work around the limits or boundaries that other filmmakers choose to acknowledge. The results often alienate more general audiences, but those who are unafraid to witness work which pushes them completely out of their comfort zone will applaud the work being done here.

The House That Jack Built feels deeply personal, and arguably there is nobody else that could have made this film; whether you see that as a good thing or not. Out of all of his work this may be the most significant breach into the director’s mindset. It’s a self-referential conversation we are engaged with without ever having to speak ourselves, yet it still feels like we are engaging with the discussion. For devotees, this latest effort may prove to be von Trier’s most stimulating yet.

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