Wednesday, August 12, 2009

MIFF 2009 Review: Antichrist

Dir. Lars Von Trier
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: R18+
Running Time: 109mins

I actually think seeing Lars Von Trier's latest film deep in the midst of a film festival is the best possible thing. Casually going to the cinema and seeing it could very easily give the impression that Antichrist is a pretentious horror wank. It's easy to dismiss it as pretentious what with it's obsessions with things like "gynocide" and clitoral mutilation, however, having sat through many other films over the two weeks of the Melbourne International Film Festival I can most certainly assure you that Antichrist is not pretentious. You want pretentious? How about Treeless Mountain, a movie so minimalist that even the long passages of silence think they're better than you. Or what about The White Ribbon (a film I more or less liked), which doesn't even have an ending! Now that is pretentious.

Antichrist is a relentlessly unsettling movie and acts as a sort of cleanser for Von Trier who had waffled aimlessly around since the masterpiece of Dogville. Trite like Manderlay and the unnecessary, but slightly entertaining, The Boss of it All. I am quite certain that Von Trier believes his own statements that he is the greatest filmmaker of all time, and while I can't quite agree with him (yet), I do think he is one of the most important and he continues to be one of the only directors brave enough to make a movie as completely and utterly insane and deranged like Antichrist.

Divided into four "chapters" plus a prologue and an epilogue, the movie opens with the - if you can call it such - elegantly filmed death of a baby that belongs to a mid-tryst Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe. It is then decided that a trip to the couple's holiday house in the woods is in order for Gainsbourg's "Her" to reconcile herself with the feelings of hopelessness. It is here that the film descends into the infamous shenanigans that have given the film a reputation as one of the most controversial of all time. Of course, people will go on about the film's depiction of violence - it's far from the goriest film you'll ever see - and Von Trier will be labelled a misogynist, but what I saw was such impressive craft.

What actually struck me quite early on, in the hospital scenes precisely, was the writing. Such cutting and icy dialogue spewing forth out of Dafoe and Gainsbourg and delivered so sharply. Gainsbourg is very impressive here and probably deserved her Cannes award for Best Actress, but I can't express enough how much Dafoe matches her scene for scene. He really impressed me here. Visually the film is a stunner, too, with cinematography by recently Oscar-minted Anthony Dod Mantle. Equally impressive is the sound design, which could almost crush bones it is that intense. It shamelessly steals music cues from The Blair Witch Project, but the sense of ever-increasing doom that it creates is quite palpable.

I'm not sure what Von Trier could have done with this movie to avoid calls of misogyny. He got labelled as one when he attached a large wheel to Nicole Kidman in Dogville and he's still being called on when he does the same to Willem Dafoe. In this case the woman is the villain and not the victim and yet he's still sexist. Colour me confused, okay! Maybe if he wrote a scene in which Gainsbourg hilarious wore vibrating underwear?! Lars Von Trier is one of the only directors continuously making truly career-defining roles for women that I find it hard to consider him sexist. Bjork, Emily Watson, Nicole Kidman and now Charlotte Gainsbourg. What a wonderful list!

The movie's end credits are nothing more than the film's title crudely written in red text over an ugly green background, illustrated by Per Kirkeby, and yet at film's end a large number of crowd members remained. And at 1am too! Lars Von Trier is a master of manipulating his audience. There's something deliciously wicked about naming one of the chapters "PAIN: Chaos Reigns" in order to elicit a collective audience wince. I obviously can't say whether the audience liked it or not, but of all the films I saw at MIFF it was this that seemed to spark the most discussion. People wanted to turn to the person next to them afterward and ask "what was that?" I have to admire any film that can do that. That I think the film is quite good as well is a powerful statement and one that won't soon be leaving my mind. B+


Catherine said...

I don't think he's misogynistic either. Maybe if Gainsbourg was the only one being tortured and humiliated, but what about poor Willem Dafoe and his crotch area? Nah, I don't think Von Trier is misogynistic, just generally misanthropic. Still, I disliked the film, despite how wonderful and flawless it was in technical matters. Sound, editing, cinematography were flawless. However, I felt the storyline was borderline dull (in between the moments of violence, of course) and filled with the kind of rudimentary symbolism that I have no patience for.

jessica said...

I haven't seen 'Antichrist,' so I can't speak about that, but I've seen two Lars Von Trier movies - 'Breaking the Waves' and 'Dogville.' When I saw 'Breaking the Waves' I didn't know who the director was, I just stumbled across it on IFC. I actually really loved it. Of course, it's the type of movie that a lot of unimaginative people are going to have knee-jerk reactions to, but I found it refreshing and stimulating. I also loved 'Dogville' when I saw it later. It never occurred to me to think of either movie as misogynist, so I was surprised (but then again, not suprised) when I first heard of Von Trier's reputation as a misogynist.
It's not as if these are torture-porn movies, where beautiful, naked women are slowly tortured, raped and killed for the delight of the viewer...The fact that many people can't tell the difference is disappointing yet not exactly surprising...

Anonymous said...

I dont care for the film - but the cinematography looks amazing.

Guy said...

THANK YOU for writing this -- you know I've been on the case of the self-appointed misogyny police for months now.

How a film that quite blatantly censures a woman for advocating gynocide can simply be labelled "misogynistic" is beyond me. How a director openly fascinated by the female sex can receive the same label ahead of numerous filmmakers -- hacks and auteurs alike -- who couldn't be less interested is even further beyond me.

It makes me crazy. Teeth-grindingly, headache-inducingly crazy.

russwilliams_uk said...

Nice review. I really enjoyed the film: