Starring Willem Dafoe & Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Written & Directed by Lars Von Trier.
Director Lars Von Trier has been a source of frustration for me. Quite frankly, I think he is one of the greatest filmmakers on the planet (and Lars himself would agree with me!), but his quest for experimentation and self-indulgence has led him down some infuriating paths. He broke onto the scene in 1991 with his third film Europa – a near masterpiece of ‘avant-garde’ cinema – and he followed this success a few years later with the equally magnificent Breaking The Waves. During the interim, he signed on to the Dogme95 manifesto, which was a misguided attempt by a bunch of Danish filmmakers to strip the artform to a bare minimum (in other words, relinquishing all that is important to filmmaking). Ever the individualist, Von Trier could never quite adhere to the manifesto, his only true Dogme film being the atrocious The Idiots in 1999. The philosophy of Dogme influenced the surreal Dancer In The Dark (and to some extent Waves), and the blend of rough editing and camera-work and surreal fixed-shots was a wonderfully artistic and (relatively) unique combination. With Antichrist, perhaps his best and most unsettling work, the blend is refined and taken to new levels (or depths). A husband and wife are fornicating when their young son falls to his death from an open window. Struggling with grief, they head to a cabin in the woods for ‘therapy’, finding instead the brink of insanity. At the time of filming, Von Trier was dealing with depression and stated dryly in one interview after the film’s release that it was the best he could do under the circumstances (!!). Unable to work the camera as he would usually, Von Trier enlisted cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire) and the results are staggering. Antichrist is a difficult film. It’s borderline misogynistic (as has been pointed out by countless critics), definitely pornographic and extremely violent. It is a horror film, though not a conventional horror film by any standards, instead toying with the genre’s clichés and ideology. It’s a treatise on grief and pain, and of psychological trauma. And, most importantly, it is a work of high art. Antichrist is most assuredly not for all tastes, and I’ll tell you that even this jaded reviewer was shocked by some of the scenes in this movie (audience members at a screening in Denmark fainted during one act of self-mutilation). It is as self-indulgent as Von Trier can get, but it is also a decidedly brave and non-exploitative film (somehow!), with much of that due to the performances of Willem Dafoe and especially Charlotte Gainsbourg. If you feel strong enough to take this terrifying journey (and it does require courage), for better or worse, it’s one you’ll never forget.
by Wadrick Jones