Friday, April 29, 2011

Cabin Sever: "Antichrist" (2009)

I hate Lars von Trier. Among some of the worst films I have ever seen rest "Breaking the Waves," "Dancer in the Dark," and the artsy-putrid "Dogville." He sits in Europe, creating Cannes Palme d'Or-baiting anti-American pablum, while the American public go to drivel like "Transformers" and Shia's stabs at credibility...okay, maybe von Trier has a point.

I DVR'd "Antichrist" off Independent Film Channel, and watched it this morning. Damn you, IFC, for interrupting the bottom of the screen with graphics for moronic series like "Food Party," and the only semi-funny "The Whitest Kids U'Know." Really? During a watershed landmark film, sure to be argued about for years to come, I need to know that the new "The Whitest Kids U'Know" season is coming up, featuring Trevor Moore's rarely funny songs?

I did not plan on reviewing "Antichrist," walking in a light rain shower to the seemingly abandoned university library after I finished watching the film. I retrieved the Sep.-Oct. 2009 issue of Film Comment magazine, and right on the cover was the bony bloody beauty of Charlotte Gainsbourg, eyes looking to her right. The still from the film reminded me of what I saw, and almost reconfirmed my inability to review this film; yet after reading Larry Gross' long and interesting article on the film, I decided to give it a shot.

An unnamed married couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe) have a stolen sexual moment together. Their toddler son, the only other cast member, tumbles out of their apartment window to his death. Dafoe, a therapist, retreats to the family's cabin in the woods with the still grieving Gainsbourg. Being a better therapist than a husband, Dafoe tries to draw Gainsbourg out, and the two begin manipulating each other psychologically. Eventually, violence is resorted to, as von Trier grabs the viewer by the throat and makes us watch wide-eyed at what seemingly rational and educated human beings are capable of doing to each other and themselves.

Across the world, I am sure von Trier has generated many a thesis and dissertation with this one film. I have a feeling everyone with an opinion about the film will have a different take on it, with none of them being wrong (even among my fellow critics here). For the purpose of this review, I will stick to the filmic aspects. Both Dafoe and Gainsbourg are astounding. Dafoe is one of the most interesting actors working today, unafraid of this intense material. I only remember Gainsbourg as a demure "Jane Eyre" a few years ago, but she, too, inhabits her character. I don't know who else was approached to play this hopelessly damaged couple, but I cannot imagine any other performers doing this. Dafoe and Gainsbourg turn in the best performances of their careers.

Von Trier's screenplay is like none I have seen filmed. We have a psychological domestic drama played against a Sam Raimi/"Evil Dead" backdrop. The scary monsters aren't under the bed, and aren't hiding in the woods. They are in the heads of our couple, and manifest themselves in Nature itself. I've never been a fan of von Trier's "kinetic" direction, the shaky Dogme crap drives me nuts, but this style doesn't seem as pronounced here. I don't know if von Trier's confidence in his own material finally peaked, but I really appreciated it. The film's look is beautiful and dark, the music and sound are deft, and the other technical aspects are hard to forget.

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that through this film, von Trier had shaken him (the quote is on the back of the aforementioned Film Comment). I would add to that statement and say that I can't shake this film. I am a fan of the obscure and avant-garde, I am currently touring the short films of James Broughton on DVD, but "Antichrist" has affected me like no film since "Pixote." This film is infuriating, vile, and nihilistic, but will also ruin other films for you (at least for a few days- how can I sit through "Marmaduke" after this?).

If anything, this film will hopefully make others seek out more cerebral fare, or in my case, crack open that long neglected screenplay and work on it, knowing that I am God in that little paper universe, and if von Trier can write about a woman mutilating her own genitalia, I shouldn't shy away from writing an explicit sex scene (even if no one ever reads it after I'm gone).

I still hate Lars von Trier, but thanks to "Antichrist," I now respect him. (* * * * *) out of five stars.