Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Film review: Antichrist

Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Country: Denmark

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark and, by all accounts, it is the mind of master provocateur Lars von Trier. When the filmmaker’s latest work debuted at the Cannes it was immediately guaranteed a place in the annals of the film festival’s history; booed and hissed throughout, Antichrist provoked numerous walkouts and sent a few more sensitive patrons into bouts of fainting spells thanks to scenes described by more than a few commentators as ‘needlessly graphic’.

That after all these years von Trier is still able to shock so effectively is impressive, that he is able to do so at a time when torture porn has reached the mainstream is surprising. For all the controversy and criticism dividing audiences down the middle, Antichrist remains a bizarrely beautiful film to watch. Hideous too, but there can be no denying that with the structural rigours of Dogme filmmaking set aside, von Trier remains a director of considerable artistry.

The film opens to a monochrome prologue in which Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (neither’s characters are given names, known only as He and She) make love (though thanks to the jarring insertion of a penetration shot there’s a implied sense of pure carnal fucking) in the shower as water droplets cascade in slo-mo over their bodies. Their lust (or is it self-absorption?) is inter-cut with the misadventures of the couple’s child who, escaping from his cot, climbs onto the window ledge as snow falls outside. As She and Him climax in erotic bliss and the child falls to the accompaniment of a Handel aria, it is difficult not to be intoxicated by the devilishly interplay of beauty and tragedy. It is also the first level of disturbing material von Trier toys with as the film ups the ante in each of the proceeding chapters entitled: Grief, Pain and Despair.

After a month in hospital, Dafoe’s professional therapist decides he knows best and takes his wife home to continue her recovery, after all, “no therapist can know as much about you as I do.” Fair comment maybe, but there’s little room for doubt where his arrogance is concerned as therapy becomes a synonym for control, allowing for an argument of sly feminism in von Trier’s babbling essay. To a remote cabin the woods they head to allow Her to confront her fears. It is here curiosity about the occult, nature as Satan’s church, talking foxes and infamous genital mutilation all occur.

Amid the controversy much fun has been made of von Trier’s final cinematic insult, dedicating his film to one of the greats, Andrei Tarkovsky, a credit not necessarily as glib or blasphemous as presumed. Antichrist might be an elaborate joke, but it is anything but a shallow one.


Unknown said...

Really well said, Scott. I didn't end up tackling a review doe this film, so I'm pleased to see many of my thoughts echoed here.