Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Film Review: ANTICHRIST (2009, Lars Trier)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle (FESTEN, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, DOGVILLE, 28 DAYS LATER...).
Tag-line: "When nature turns evil, true terror awaits"
Best one-liner: "Chaos reigns."

When I heard that that lovable worrywort Lars Trier (despite my adoration of his films, I refuse to indulge the bratty affectation of the ersatz 'von') was remaking BODY OF EVIDENCE, I was like 'Well, if he doesn't get Madonna back, I sure hope he gets the fingering scene right,' and, oh yes, he sure does. The 'Dafoe assthrusting factor' and the ‘all women are evil' vibe are quite undeniably present as well. In all seriousness, though, this is Trier coming to grips with his personal celluloid hero- Andrei Tarkovsky (who, for the sake of brevity, I shall refer to as 'Big T'). Some of Trier's early films (IMAGES OF RELIEF, THE ELEMENT OF CRIME, MEDEA) struggled to emerge from Big T's shadow.

Big T yucks it up, knowing Lars will never TRULY emerge from his shadow.

By the 90's, it had seemed he'd found his 'own' (lack of?) style when he and a squad of his Dane buddies submitted Dogme 95 for our consideration (THE IDIOTS). Later, for the USA trilogy (DOGVILLE, MANDERLAY), he combined elements of his prior styles with stark, black box staging. But now, with ANTICHRIST, he's taken 30 years of experience, and reapplied it to Big T's universe. The film is even dedicated to Big T's memory.

What follows is a staggering tract (shot by original Dogme lenser Anthony Dod Mantle) which might just be the most beautifully photographed film of the decade (though I'm not sure Big T would’ve approved of CGI acorns).

Dafoe and Gainsbourg, as He and She (of course), are terrific. She wonders if her grief is atypical. He wonders if a 'fear pyramid' chart can save her (an exercise which I'm absolutely sure that little bundle of nerves named Trier has done on occasion). But they're both missing that elephant in the room. It looks like a nice vase of flowers. But if we get closer, just a little closer... start to look at the dirty water, start to let it consume us...

That dirty flower water... starts to sully everything.... JESUS GOD, IT'S CONSUMED EVERYTHING!!! And that, I think, is a little window of insight into Mr. Trier's OCD world. Lars Trier is scared. Scared of everything. And he wants you to be scared, too.

And he's gonna sit right here, wearin' his hoodie, until Hot Topic agrees to carry a line of ANTICHRIST action figures.

But it’s hard to say exactly how Trier wants us to react. Does he want us to shudder and cry in the flickering darkness, or does he want us to chortle or crack a smile every time there's a shot for shot homage to Big T? Keep your eyes peeled for quotes from SOLARIS, MIRROR, etc...

Big T's MIRROR.


Little T's ANTICHRIST.

Or is he content if we merely have a reaction in general? For example, I don't think I'm going camping for a while.

The fantastic Mr. Fox.

Parts of this film are certainly hilarious– slomo balls n' penetration in the midst of Handel, unexpected nipple biting, Dafoe's endless psychobabble, or his AMAZING exasperated sigh upon the return of some l'il forest buddies (you'll know it when you see it). The script may be a tad ham-fisted (it might have benefitted from being a silent film?), but viscerally, we're kept in a state of suffocation (and I don't think a film has suceeded at suffocating the viewer quite so much since Todd Haynes' SAFE): stifling slow-motion, ominous aural frequencies, a choking shroud of fog, and TICKS, TICKS, TICKS!!!– the base, cruel, vile filth of nature. (Where's Herzog?!)
Yes! Fuck nature! Fuck it in the ear! Cue The Cramps' "All Women Are Bad," and give this thing four stars.

-Sean Gill

Side note: And stay for the credits- you'll see the "department of misogyny research," "the department of horror film research," and, while there's no "no animals were harmed in this production" statement, there IS an "all animals were handled by professionals" disclaimer. So on a Lars Trier film, animals are only harmed by professionals. It seems fitting.

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