Danish 'Antichrist' provides Cannes' annual scandal

CANNES: Cannes nearly always has its scandal and this year it came in the form of a Danish "Antichrist" that provoked such a storm its director promised a cleaner "Catholic" version for US audiences.

Lars Von Trier's gothic thriller about love and madness provoked fainting, gasps and walk-outs at the festival with its shots of a clitoris being sliced off with rusty scissors and male genitals smashed with a plank.

It was declared "the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world" by an Ecumenical Jury which every year hands out a minor prize to a Cannes film that celebrates spiritual values.

The jury president, Romanian film-maker Radu Mihaileanu, said he felt the need to hand out a special "anti-prize" this year because the film suggested that "woman should be burnt at the stake so that man can finally stand up."

Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux reacted furiously.

It was a "ridiculous decision that borders on a call for censorship, (it is) scandalous coming from an 'ecumenical' jury which what is more is headed by a film-maker," he said.

"Antichrist" -- starring French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe of the US -- has Dafoe play a psychotherapist who takes his wife to a log cabin retreat to help her overcome grief at their baby's death.

But instead they descend into a crazed spiral of violence.

Half-naked for much of the film, Gainsbourg masturbates lying on the forest floor in one of many explicit scenes, and subjects Dafoe's character to ordeals that include bashing his genitals with a wooden plank.

She won the Cannes best actress award for the role in which she masturbates Dafoe to bring him to a bloody climax before drilling through his leg and bolting it to a millstone.

Both actors said they were deeply affected by making the movie, with Dafoe saying there was an "intense physical and emotional atmosphere" on the film set.

At leat four people fainted and critics jeered during festival screenings of the film, one of 20 competing for the Palme d'Or top prize that was handed out Sunday to Austrian Michael Haneke for "The White Ribbon."

But Von Trier, who won a Palme for "Dancer in the Dark" in 2000 and made his latest film as as a form of therapy after a mental breakdown, insisted it was the most important work of his career.

The Dane was aware that his film well might spark controversy and had previously decided to produce a toned-down cut of "Antichrist" to satisfy foreign censors, according to his production company.

"We reached an agreement with Lars more than a year ago to make a 'Catholic' version of the movie, to cut some scenes and replace them with others," Peter Aalbaek Jensen, the head of the Zentropa production group, told AFP last week.

"Otherwise it would be impossible to sell (it) to prudish markets like southern Europe, Asia and the United States, where you can't show a naked man from the front," he said.

Von Trier will begin work on the new version "after the Cannes festival," he said.