AntiChrist * * * *
Director: Lars Von Trier.
Screenplay: Lars Von Trier.
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe.
By his own admittance, director Lars Von Trier’s intention with this film was not exactly how it turned out. He tried to turn his hand at making a genre horror film. Much like trying to make a musical with “Dancer in the Dark”, he can’t help but imbue it with his usual intelligence and artistic flourishes that take it beyond a mere genre picture. Von Trier doesn’t quite do genre.
After the accidental death of their child, a therapist (Willem Dafoe) and his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) – listed in the credits only as “He” and “She” – retreat to a cabin in the perhaps haunted woods to recover. Eventually, they turn savagely on each other and bloody mayhem ensues.
There are many similarities with this and Von Trier’s most accessible film to date “Melancholia“. Not only in the exploration of mental illness in his leading female character but also in his recurrent theme of despair and chaos and his strikingly stylish, slow-motion prologue and use of music. Has Von Trier settled on a particular style now? If so, it’s a style that will serve him well. During the making of this, the director was himself suffering from depression (which was further explored in “Melancholia“) and it shows. You can see his understanding of the isolation of mental health not to mention the false hope in any saviour from it. This is brilliantly portrayed by two exceptionally brave performances from his actors. Gainsbourg in particular delivers one of the most daring pieces of acting since Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant”. The subject matter may be one that would be overlooked come awards season but she was certainly deserving of recognition. It’s a stunningly shot film with atmosphere and creepiness in abundance and disturbing images of the cruelty of nature. In some ways, Von Trier’s realisation reminded me of dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch and his fantastical paintings. In particular, Bosch’s most famous “The Garden of Earthly Delights” which depicts Adam and Eve in a wondrous garden before descending to Hell where punishments are handed out for sinners. The fact that Von Trier has his characters’ unravelling in a remote place called ‘Eden’ further fuels this.
Be warned, there are brutal and unbearable violent scenes, that I’m surprised the censors overlooked. However, it’s still an extraordinary, surreal and highly provocative journey. Just another day at the office for Lars Von Trier then…