"Chaos reigns," says a bloodied fox midway into Danish film artist Lars von Trier's frightening couple-in-crisis drama "Antichrist" and the furry-tailed creature could not be more accurate. Like a horror movie, or more accurately an installment of the "Saw" series or Eli Roth's "Hostel," "Antichrist" offers its share of tortuous mutilation scenes. There are moments in "Antichrist" when I covered my eyes; something I've never done with a previous Von Trier film. But there are also many sequences of stunning photography, beautiful use of music, brave performances and a fascinating tale about parents dealing with devastating sorrow.
has it all, beautiful art and ugly, shocking violence. A challenging film that's been splitting audiences since its debut at this year's Cannes Film Festival, "Antichrist"
is further proof that one of the great joys for art-house moviegoers over the past 18 years has been watching and debating the challenging work of Von Trier.
While not every Von Trier film is successful, his comedy "The Idiots," for example, "Antichrist" joins "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark" as extraordinary movies and further confirms Von Trier as one of cinema's most artful and audacious talents.
An unnamed couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) has a hard time dealing with the loss of their infant son. She collapses at his funeral and is hospitalized. Her husband, a psychologist, insists she comes off her medication and deal directly with her fears. She is afraid of their woodland cabin. So he forces her to confront her phobia by coming and staying in the isolated cottage. At the cabin, the wife becomes explosive and the husband, controlling and somewhat dismissive of her feelings, becomes an unwitting target of her anger.
Von Trier and cameraman Anthony Dod Mantle pay more attention to Dafoe's lined face and Gainsbourg's expressive mouth that any of the film's famous horrors, especially a scene of auto clitorectomy that continues to make me tremble with horror. Gainsbourg gives the film's standout performance as a grieving mother who clearly blames herself for her child's death. Fragile and frightened, she's also the surprising source of the film's greatest scares. Dafoe, so visibly confident at the beginning of the film, finds himself incapable of explaining the surrounding disorder. His growing unease reflects the feelings of the squirming audience.
Von Trier has revealed that he began "Antichrist" during a severe bout of depression which, perhaps, makes "Antichrist" his most personal film to date. At the very least, it casts greater complexity on Dafoe's psychiatrist character.
Visually stunning thanks to standout work from art director Tim Pannen and production designer Karl Júlíussen, "Antichrist"
remains a challenging film that divides audiences into camps who declare it genius and those who consider it a work of misogynistic violence.
References to "Rosemary's Baby" and Carl Theodor Dreyer are evident throughout the film, although I cannot help but think of Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," another example of a film artist testing the horror genre for the first time.
It's worth noting that Von Trier ends the movie with a dedication to Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, whose film "The Mirror" he cites as a major influence. I did not think of Tarkovsky once while watching "Antichrist" but that's part of the joy surrounding Von Trier - he's always surprising.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Screenwriter: Lars von Trier
Director: Lars von Trier
Producer: Zentropa Films
Running Time 109 mins.
Rating: Unrated (with adult situations and violent content) Release Date: Oct. 23, 2009
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