The House That Jack Built ★★★½

"It was strange to see The House That Jack Built presented so gaudily, with taped intros from Von Trier (who began his remarks with ‘Hello you bold people of America’ and closed with ‘Never another Trump’) and Dillon, in the same theatre where, 13 years ago, I’d seen the director conduct a Q&A via video conference. Back then, he was still a Respected International Arthouse Director, whose Manderlay (2005) would receive, de facto, serious consideration if not actual approval. All I remember about that Q&A was a particularly cringe-inducing exchange between Von Trier and a film student who, for no real reason, asked about Godard’s influence. Von Trier shut down the question, hilariously so, by claiming he’d seen very few of Godard’s films and thought about them even less; it was a good way of deflating a very freshman film school moment, but also totally implausible.

"If Von Trier hadn’t seen Godard then, he certainly has now. Godard made his personality and a wide range of citations inseparable from the text of his films, and Von Trier is now doing much the same. First and chief among these citations is footage of Glenn Gould, a perfect metaphorical stand-in for Von Trier. Gould stopped playing live early in his career, musically focusing exclusively on studio work – just like the flying-averse Von Trier, who’s been making films set in an ‘America’ entirely of his own construction since Dancer in the Dark (2000). Gould’s signature was the loud humming so integral to his performance and captured in his recordings, a way of elevating and granting the performer supremacy over the piece that’s ostensibly the focus. So too Von Trier, whose hum – his anxieties, interrogation and amplification of his objectionable public self, recurring obsessions – dominates whatever genre he’s ostensibly taking on."

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