It says something about the extraordinary Antichrist that the first time Squally saw it, the film felt like a comedy. The second time, it felt like a tragedy. The movie was greeted with jeers at Cannes, which writer/director Lars von Trier brushed off with the proclamation, “I am the world’s greatest filmmaker.”
The critics were trying to take Antichrist too seriously. In dealing with the disintegration of a woman, after all, Von Trier was walking on hallowed ground. The cracked woman is a favorite trope of (male) directors, whether it’s Marnie or Rebecca, Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert, any number of women in Bergman’s films, Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence, Julianne Moore in Todd Haynes’s Safe, or especially Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher, by von Trier’s bete noire, Michael Haneke. Squally could go on, but let’s just say that it’s one of the greatest clichés of the art house cinema: a beautiful woman goes to pieces, the beautiful actress who plays her is acclaimed for the performance.