OK, let's get this out of the way first. Lars von Trier's new film Antichrist features a baby falling to its death, a man ejaculating blood and a woman cutting off her clitoris with a pair of scissors.
These incidents were responsible for the mixture of booing, derisive laughter and ecstatic plaudits which greeted the movie at its premiere in Cannes. Actually, the giggling might have been at the sight, halfway through, of a talking fox. But it is undoubtedly the scenes of genital mutilation and explicit sexuality which have earned this film the publicist's dream label of Most Controversial Movie of the Year, and it is this that will get the turnstiles spinning.
But with which punters? The sensation-seeking, torture-porn horror crowd will feel impatient and restless, rather like the dirty-mac brigade of yesteryear who had to suffer hours of tedious talky exposition in Swedish in order to get a few flashes of bare breasts in seedy West End cinema clubs. They should give it a miss, and wait for bits and pieces to fetch up on YouTube. For, make no mistake, with its heavy stylisation, chapter headings and use of Handel on the soundtrack, Antichrist is an art-house film with a capital A.
Don't look now, but we've been here before. The film's only two characters, He, played by Willem Defoe, and She, Charlotte Gainsbourg, are a young married couple who retreat to their remote woodland cabin to deal with their grief after their only child accidentally plunged to his death from an open window while they were obliviously and very explicitly making love (explicitly, but not, mind you, erotically — bony-arsed and bloodless, they are the sort whom only people with access to higher planes of understanding profess to find attractive). He is a therapist, she some sort of academic. They say things to each other like, "Can't I be afraid without a definite object?" and "Nature is Satan's Church". They are themselves the very types who would be first in line to see this film.
They rip into each other over the space of about an hour. The man, full of cold reason, tries various therapeutic exercises. But consumed by her guilt, the woman spurns and then eventually turns on him. The possibly innate evil of womankind in general is put briefly under the microscope before she immobilises him by drilling a hole into his leg and attaching a bolted weight. Finally she turns on herself and delivers the prosthetically assisted coup de grace.