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Antichrist
UKScreen Rating:

Antichrist – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

While a psychotherapist (Dafoe) and his wife (Gainsbourg) are having sex in their high-rise apartment, their toddler climbs out of his cot, toddles into the dining room, climbs onto the table, toddles onto the window and slips on the snowy ledge, falling to his death below.
The couple struggle to deal with their loss – in hospital, the wife is filled with pills – while her husband has to be strong, to help her get over her grief.
He believes that in order to come to terms with the loss, she needs to confront her biggest fear. This, she tells him, revolves around their cabin in the woods.
So, it’s off to the cabin in the woods.
As he tries to counsel her through her grief, nature begins to get the better of her.
Rather than sit and talk, all she wants to do is have sex until, before long, her mind wanders off even further – as her battle with her fears and her loss becomes a battle against what she sees as the evils of nature itself.
Her insanity lets rip violence as – in the words of a mangy fox – chaos reigns.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

You’ll have heard a lot about this film. Some praise it as a brave work of cinematic genius. Others damn it as the pretentious mental masturbation of a self-important cineaste.
As with all these kind of situations, the truth lies somewhere in between, although it’s closer to the latter, as substance gives way to style, from the first slow-motion, black and white scene.
The basic premise – a couple struggling to overcome the guilt and grief of the loss of a child – isn’t original, but is a commendable launch-pad for effective drama – and even horror – as Don’t Look Now illustrates.
But here, the basic premise fast becomes irrelevant as Lars von Trier has his characters pontificating on the nature of fear – and the fear of nature.
So far so good.
But the chaptered presentation suggests – indeed betrays – an inability to tell a coherent story, with each self-important sub-title failing to tweak the intrigue in the way he clearly intends.
The wife’s descent into madness is shocking – and rawly delivered – while the husband’s attempts to survive against adversity are also sympathetically played.
The performances are as good as they could be with the material and the cinematography is either far better than von Trier deserves, or possibly, the key element of his film.
The imagery is stunning – and original – from its stark use of colours to the rather inexplicable chalk-white bodies that litter the countryside. These are particularly unusual, coming from a director whose cinematic raison d’etre was always to take the medium back to basics. With Dogme, he shunned effects, even unnatural lighting – here, the film is visually constructed from his own depressed imagination.
That’s where it gets worrying. What on earth is going on inside the mind of a man who brings such naively depraved images to the big screen as completely gratuitous penetrative sex (I don’t need to see it to work out what’s going on when I see two naked, moaning adults writhing around in the shower together) and two of the most gruesome shots of modern-day cinema – one involving his private parts and the other involving hers (what ever happened to suggestion being more powerful than showing) – neither of which I’ll ‘spoil’ for you?
It’s almost as if he came up with an idea, didn’t really know where to take it, and so added a handful of controversial moments with the sole intention that regardless of any benefits, it would be the most talked about film of the year. For all the wrong reasons, perhaps? But everyone’s talking about it nonetheless, and von Trier is laughing all the way to the publicity bank.
In that sense, it’s a loathsome and cynical piece of pretentious film-making that leaves us with some powerful imagery but squirming uncomfortably until the final credits roll, without being particularly moved.
For the guys out there, this is a film-maker who’s used a sledgehammer to crack our nuts.

WHAT ELSE?

The publicity for this film proudly boasts that it was passed uncut by the BBFC with an 18 certificate. This is one of those films that provide tremendous problems for the censors. How far can they be pushed?
If they demand cuts, they risk being branded prudish. It wouldn’t be a first, but it’s easier for them not to have to defend themselves, having been – perhaps – a little old-fashioned.
But in passing it, they’ve borne the brunt of the very prudish criticism that would have faced them had they ordered cuts.
They can’t win. Perhaps the only winner has been von Trier himself, who’s got away with something that probably no other film-maker would – or would even want to.

opens nationwide 24th July 2009

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