Tuesday, September 15, 2009

REVIEW: Antichrist...


Oh boy.

That was the first thought that ran through my head after getting through the entirety of Lars Von Trier's newest conversation creator, Antichrist. After films like Breaking the Waves, Dogville and Manderlay, not to mention his Dogma 95 films, the man is one to not let the boundaries go unpushed.

However, Antichrist is a whole new monster. The envelope has not only be pushed, but shoved off a cliff, buried for a month, dug up, lit on fire, and then thrown off the same cliff it got cock punched off of. And every second of it was fantastic, if quite off putting.

Antichrist follows a couple who lose their young son when he falls out the window while they have sex in an adjacent room. The mother's grief consigns her to hospital, but her therapist husband brings her home wholly intent on treating her depression himself. To confront her fears they go to stay at their remote cabin in the woods, "Eden", where something untold happened the previous summer. Told in four chapters with a prologue and epilogue, the film details acts of lustful cruelty as the man and woman unfold the darker side of nature outside and within.

That synopsis is pretty much as far as I'm not only able to go, but really should go. The best and most interesting way to see this film is completely blind. Even the trailers should be avoided, as they are one of the best examples of a trailer giving just exactly how insane and dark a film is. The most recent trailer does show just how intense and "crazy" this film gets.

The biggest star of this film may perhaps be Von Trier himself.

As he is known for doing, Von Trier is wan to push boundaries, however, he is also considered one of the most pretentious film makers working today. Not only that, but he is often called out on how dark his films are, and how they are not only torturous to the films characters, but to the audience as well.

That said, the same can not be discussed here. Sure, the film is shocking and audacious, but when you have a decaying fox jump up and start talking, you can't help but feel that Von Trier is winking at us all. Also, the film is so overly stylish, that it's just a stunning film to look at. Take the opening for example. It's a black and white sex scene (including one GRATUITOUS penetration shot), that is done in such a poetic style, featuring the slowest slow-motion ever put to film, that not only is it amazing to look at, but it's emotional turn is all the more powerful.

The film shifts from the opening prologue, to an all new style of film, where it's in stunning color, with an almost painterly set of hues. This is arguably the most stunning film I have had the chance to see all year, and it really adds to the emotional weight that the film pulls. Yes, the film is dark and torturous, but it's also a stunning visual work.

Not only does Von Trier handle the direction brilliantly here, but featuring a stunning pallet of forest style colors, like dark blacks and harsh greens, Anthony Dod Mantle, who has just come off last year's Slumdog Millionaire, completely helps shape the sense of horror that this film tries to make the audience feel.

The film is also a slow, if not very subtle, burn. From the opening poem of a set piece, the film, while emotionally heavy, isn't to gratuitous. However, as the film begins to rev up, you feel the speeding train heading for it's ultimate destination; a brick wall. The couple themselves slowly grow from simply bickering about minute things, to intense sexual frustration and aggression, to it's final beating (which other reviews have given away, but I will not).

After a controversial Cannes Film Festival premiere, the film was thrust into headlines as not only a controversial piece, but a film full of hateful misogyny. However, what people forget to mention is that, while there are themes of misogyny within the film, the film also features two brilliant performances.

The film stars, and features only, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, with both pulling in stellar performances. Gainsbourg plays the haunted mother who is suffering from some sort of mental illness after the loss of her child, and Dafoe plays her husband who attempts to treat her when the two leave for "Eden", so that Gainsbourg can finish her thesis on "Gynocide", or the persecution and killing of women throughout history. The two play He and She respectively, and both should, but probably will not, be mentioned in the same breath as other Oscar-worthy performances come time to hand out the golden guy.

While I wholeheartedly recommend this film as what it is, there is a disclaimer that any review about this film must have. This film will turn some, if not all of you, off (both emotionally, and sexually, as the sex scenes in this film are the opposite of erotic). The Times from the UK actually summed this polarizing film up best:

The answer, typically, is both yes and no. “No”, if you are of a nervous disposition and suspect that you might be psychologically traumatized by the sight, in momentary close-up, of an ersatz vulva being manhandled by the props department. But “yes” if you believe in the profound possibilities for personal expression that the medium can offer, or if you’ve ever sensed, however briefly, the eerie shadow of bestial individualism that haunts all human relationships.

Not only is this film about the Id of these two characters, and a couples deepest and darkest depressions, but it also forces the viewer to look inward, if you will allow yourself to plum those depths. All in all, the above quote has a yes or no outcome.

My thoughts are a resounding yes.

ANTICHRIST - 8/10

Go see something good!

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