Thursday, August 19, 2010

#542: Antichrist

(Lars Von Trier, 2009)

Lars Von Trier is a terrible person, as I mentioned in my brief rundown of Europa. Unlike some people, I have never found it that difficult to separate my feelings towards a filmmaker from my feelings towards the film. But in the case of Antichrist, I don't have to even bother, because this movie is a piece of shit.

OK, I'm being provocative. It's not that bad. But I learned from the best, and no one provokes like Trier. (Do I have to use his fake "von" when addressing him by his last name? I hope not.) At his most technical, Trier is an excellent filmmaker. He has a great eye, his use of color in even a purposefully drab film such as this is spectacular, and he knows how to get the best out of his actors, who seem to trust him with their very lives. Both Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg give performances that completely lack vanity or self-consciousness. I often roll my eyes when I hear someone say a performance is "brave" - acting can be depicted as much more than it is - but these are truly brave performances in the sense that they give themselves over completely to the material and are not afraid to look ridiculous or damage their own psyches in the process.

Still, the actual movie to which they have given themselves over is largely worthless. The shock moments are the ones everyone focuses on, and they are here in spades: if ejaculating blood, crushing birds to death, and homemade female castration are your thing, well, there's finally a movie for you. But the most damning thing about Antichrist is how boring the whole routine is. The relationship between Dafoe and Gainsbourg is so hateful and completely separated from backstory or defining characteristics that any interaction between the two grows intolerably dull almost immediately.

Of course, Trier does this on purpose, because the couple isn't meant to be specific. In fact, they don't even have names; Dafoe is "He" and Gainsbourg is "She." Apart from piling on more pretentious elements to the already stuffed film (the prologue of the film is so over-the-top ridiculous that I was actually laughing) these vague names are the most obvious tip-off that the film is meant to be an academic depiction of more general psychological archetypes. Trier is most likely going as general as possible, and many people have argued that the movie is essentially damning all women. I actually felt like the movie was saying the exact opposite, that Dafoe was projecting his own sorrow into violent anger about Gainsbourg creating his child - and therefore allowing him to be destroyed - to the point where he could only destroy her in return. But honestly, I don't really care, because the movie doesn't particularly make me care.

Sadly, the movie I would most compare Antichrist to is  Last Year at Marienbad, which also used nameless characters to deal with complex male/female dynamics. But it's a real tragedy to do so, because Antichrist is the giant cartoon hammer to Last Year at Marienbad's velvet glove. Trier is certainly an ambitious director, but I can never shake the feeling that his films are less an attempt to delve into his own psyche or explore the common societal dynamics and more a crass grab for the audience's attention in the form of a cruel and useless joke.

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