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Cannes Day Five: Antichrist!
Posted on Monday May 18, 2009, 03:51 by Damon Wise
It's incredibly late at night, or rather, it's early in the morning, but I feel I have to write about Antichrist, the new film by Lars Von Trier. I avoided everyone who went to the earlier screening and I saw the film cold (well, lukewarm by anyone else's standards, since I knew that Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg were in it, and that their only co-stars were a fox, a deer and a bird). Anyhow, I was blown away by it. You will have read by now that it is terrible, an embarrassment and a career low, and I can't argue with any of that, since I can't figure out how to give it an Empire rating myself. So it's not a film I can recommend. But it's definitely something I can say is worth seeing if you want to see where film history has been, is at, and can go (if that makes sense). To be honest, I thought that Lars, sensing his career as an ageing enfant terrible was about to go tits up, would deliver a gruesome, gruelling genre movie to re-establish himself as a provocateur. He's delivered a genre movie all right, but this is a film that drives at the arthouse canon head-on. It is dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky, and if that name means nothing to you, please stay away.
And I'm not being patronising. Antichrist is to cinema what Lou Reed's Berlin was to rock music. It is a film that exists only in a continuum, and that continuum consists of films that Lars has either made or likes. So, in the words of American Psycho: this is not an exit. It's not escapist. It challenges you to believe in the power of cinema on its own terms. It is wilfully difficult. Not only is the sexuality bold, its imagery is positively hardcore. It invites you to revisit a specific time in film history when a director's vision was something for critics to keep up with, not just review. It is often laughable, mostly slow, sometimes theatrical and almost always artificial. But what Lars is driving at is something completely bizarre, massively uncommercial and strangely perfect.
When I read the synopsis – basically, a couple go to the woods to recover from the death of their son... with supernatural results – I thought that Lars was going back to The Kingdom territory to pay the rent. But what he's delivered is something entirely different: calculating (as I thought) but never cynical. Antichrist is a fascinating, flawed but ultimately galvanising piece of work. It's provocative and daring (in ways I won't reveal) but wholly, wholly energising (in ways I just never expected). I described it to someone earlier as being like performance art – and I hate performance art. But what I think I meant by that (the uncertainty is deliberate) is that Lars is here trying to re-engage us with ideas of art, and what is art, and though the film doesn't quite compare with David Lynch's recent output in its depiction of the uncanny, it fantastically achieves a sense of the absurd and unsettling.
I'm a tough crowd, but this film completely unnerved me in a way that I've never experienced before. It's about men and women, and woman and men, and seeing it so soon after Taking Woodstock makes me immediately think of that film with its pretentious theatre troupe and their gonzo staging of Chekhov's Three Sisters. But Antichrist is more than a prog-rock triple album in film form, and Lars is so far ahead of the game here that it beggars belief. Who knows whether it's good or bad (although some of the ever-literal US critics have already armed their battlements); Lars Von Trier is daring to engage with film form on a level that few of his peers could even attempt. It's like hearing Little Richard's first album again after anything by Coldplay, and that can only be a good thing.
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Posted on Monday May 18, 2009, 10:06
Wow- love the 'review' Damon. So was it good or bad? :-)
No matter, I love Lars Von Trier, so I'm excited about anything he does- although The Boss Of It All was truly terrible and unwatchable!
Posted on Monday May 18, 2009, 18:16
Love or hate his movies, daring moviemakers like Trier are something cinema cant survive without
Its provocative. Its what keeps people going
Glen Michael Michaels
Posted on Tuesday May 19, 2009, 02:10
That's stirring stuff indeed. I've read a bunch of the 'reviews' that are up today and they really do vary. Some are more articulate than others though; "Antichrist = fartbomb" does not a convincing argument make! While the film does sound like somewhat uncomfortable viewing, I still really want to see it.
Between Taking Woodstock and Antichrist, that's two films in less than a week that you've been moved to write about in the early hours. Bodes well for our future viewing, even if you're flying in the face of popular opinion!
Posted on Sunday May 24, 2009, 09:44
I do wish to see this film but out of curiosity. Tell me, why is it necessary for the female character to mutilate her genitals? It is always the woman whose genitals are violated or mutilated. It makes one wonder just what these film makers really think about women and female sexuality. I find it very disturbing indeed.
Posted on Sunday May 24, 2009, 21:13
Sorry paganprincess, going to have to disagree there. I can only think of one other film (The Exorcist) that features female genital violence yet lots where men suffer trouser trauma (Pulp Fiction, Sin City, Hard Candy not that I'm writing a novel on the subject or anything, although.....). Bit of a knee jerk reaction perhaps?