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ANTICHRIST, 2009
Movie Review

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ANTICHRIST MOVIE POSTER
ANTICHRIST
Movie Reviews

Directed by Lars von Trier
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe
Review by Daniel Green



SYNOPSIS:

An un-named, married couple He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) struggle to cope with the tragic death of their young son. Retreating to an isolated, woodland cabin, they are confronted by supernatural events and the destructive forces of nature which threaten to annihilate not only their marriage, but themselves.

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REVIEW:

The ever controversial enfant-terrible of European cinema Lars von Trier returns this year with his first attempt at a ‘horror’ film, Antichrist. To those not familiar with von Trier, he is Denmark’s second most famous director (falling in line just behind Carl Theodor Dreyer) and an artist who remains impossible to categorize. He was the co-creator of the Dogme 95 movement of the late 1990s, which charged film-makers to take a ‘Vow of Chastity’, rejecting the excess of Hollywood and mainstream cinema for a new, minimalistic approach to cinema (for a film to be considered as a Dogme piece, it must be shot hand-held with natural light, real locations, in the present etc). Von Trier made just one film strictly in this style (The Idiots (1998), a film which followed a group of young Danes who feign mental disability in public situations). However, his hunger to constantly experiment with film and to use it as a tool to explore the most controversial aspects of human nature has continued and is taken to horrific new highs in Antichrist.

Predictably, after a familiar reception for a von Trier film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (the audience bisected into those booing and those applauding), media reviews were quick to condemn Antichrist’s explicit scenes of sex and mutilation. An ‘astute’ writer for the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper stated, “You do not need to see Lars von Trier's Antichrist…to know how revolting it is. I haven't seen it myself, nor shall I”.

So now, a review by someone who has seen the film and implores you to do the same: the film’s initial scene is nothing short of breathtaking. Antichrist’s cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (the man responsible for Slumdog Millionaire’s visual flair) skilfully and voyeuristically captures He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as they have sex, moving from the shower to the bed. Shot in monochrome slow-motion, the act is artfully captured. Yes, there is a full shot of penetration (as there is in the Idiots) but if you’re old enough to see the film, you should be old enough not to giggle like an adolescent. It is certainly not the hardcore-pornography that some critics have suggested. Running parallel to this, we watch their infant son Nick lift himself out of his cot and onto a ledge in front of an open window. Drops of water from a spilled bottle and the snowflakes outside slowly fall as the child takes one look back at his fornicating parents before falling to his death on the pavement below. Von Trier manages to combine such conflicting acts and emotion (the sexual ecstasy of the pair, the slow-motion child’s death) and manages to create a symbiosis of death and beauty which sets the tone for the entire feature.

As She becomes more and more detached/near-suicidal through extreme grief, her psychiatrist husband attempts to use his knowledge of mental techniques and exercises to exorcise his wife’s demons. They embark on a journey to face his wife’s greatest fear, Eden, a log-cabin in the woods which terrifies her. During their stay, we see nature at its most aesthetically magnificent (we have a number of dream sequences where She walks through the moon-lit wood, appearing ghost-like in white) as well as at its most horrific. He becomes prey to the same violent imagery as his wife, stumbling across a female deer whose dead offspring is still attached to its hindquarters and a fox that devours its own intestines before stating, “Chaos reigns” (the creature voiced by von Trier himself).

He and She’s relationship is torn apart by her miraculous recovery and the revelation that she may have had a part in their son’s death (the coroner’s report suggest his feet we deformed, a result of her placing little Nick’s shoes on his wrong feet). The film then descends into a veritable orgy of mutilation and satanic imagery. This will of course, not be to everyone’s liking, yet it is far from the torture-porn that it has been associated with. We gain no pleasure out of the pair’s bodily destruction. They are not obnoxious adolescents being punished for their sins (as in Saw/Hostel) but sympathetic, damaged characters. The violent scenes are genuinely disturbing and that is, of course, the point. Von Trier is an advocate of cinema that makes its audience active, emotionally engaged, even disgusted. We aren’t allowed to be passive and simply let the film wash over us. Antichrist does not allow you to forget it.

The film’s most graphic image involves a close-up act of female genital-mutilation which will rightly make you wince at the very least. Many have tarnished von Trier’s reputation with the label ‘misogynist’, with fresh claim’s coming off the back of Antichrist’s release. His films often portray traumatic/harrowing acts committed upon women yet in Antichrist, Gainsbourg’s turn as She (for which she received the Best Actress award at Cannes) is one of extreme complexity. She both sins and is sinned upon. She reacts to her husband’s distanced, clinical approach to her own grief in the most overt, physical way; reversing their sexual relationship as she brutally penetrates him (I won’t spoil the film by saying with what). But ultimately, like von Trier’s other tragic heroines, she becomes the film’s true victim, expelled by those who failed to understand her/help her in her time of need.

Antichrist will always polarise audiences but for a film to actually evoke strong emotions in the current cinematic climate of franchises, sequels and bland special effects is itself an admirable feat. Any strong reaction should (and knowing von Trier, will) be viewed as a success for the self-proclaimed “greatest director in the world”.


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