Beyond the Arthouse Bait-and-Switch of Lars von Trier’s ‘The House That Jack Built’, the Director’s Cut

It’s possible to think of the director as a troll first and serious director second – this is understandable, but regrettable

Last Wednesday, a hundred-plus American theatres hosted a new Lars von Trier film, in its ‘director’s cut,’ for one night only. It’s impossible to imagine any of Von Trier’s still-working contemporaries from, say, the 1996 Cannes Film Festival (where his international breakthrough Breaking the Waves premiered) having their latest films released this way: no such fate awaits Hou Hsiao-hsien or Mike Leigh.

The House That Jack Built (2018) arrived, carnival-barker style, as a viewer-testing orgy of extreme thrills, but it’s actually a very late-period-auteur movie which continues Von Trier’s longtime formal gambit (a widescreen, performance-foregrounding and conspicuously handheld camera style, courting utilitarian ugliness, interpolated with bits reminding you he can go hyper-formal at will) while self-reflexively reorganizing his general preoccupations. A few grody but brief insert shots aside, The House That Jack Built is no serial killer slasher but two and a half hours of uneasy black comedy carried by Matt Dillon’s unreadable (hence unpredictable, hence funny) murderer, leavened with plenty of discussion about church architecture, art and morality.


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