Friday, September 11, 2009

TIFF Review - Antichrist


This isn't a film for people who only want fuzzy bunnies and rainbows. This isn't a film for people who can't take some graphic violence. This isn't a film for people who like to be comfortable when sitting in a theatre. This IS a film for people who can take some pretty serious blows to the brain and body, and then want to think about it afterwards.

Someone fainted in the theatre tonight. Someone else vomited on the row in front of him. This was a film festival crowd. These were people who should know what seeing a von Trier film can entail. Hell, the programmer who introduced the movie (and the fest programme as well) warned that if you thought you were ready for the graphic scenes - you weren't. I've sat through showers of blood, dismemberment, and The Brown Bunny at the fest in the past and have never seen these reactions.

But focusing solely on the disturbing images of the final 15-20 minutes would be doing a disservice to an excellent film. Even more so because these scenes are key in showing how far down the rabbit hole the characters have gone, and reveal the true level of damage to their psyches.

The prologue is one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema I've seen. If I had a young child, I imagine it would also be one of the most devastating. Filmed in black and white, it shows the capabilities of a director more known for his unorthodox choices than his classical directing abilities.

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play a nameless couple (simply credited as "he" and "she") who have suffered the loss of their son. She seemingly takes it harder, suffering from an grief cycle that is labeled as atypical. He, being a therapist, doesn't believe this and opts to treat her himself, despite the dictates of common sense and professionalism.

He forces her to fight through her grief and anxiety. He eventually begins to uncover her fears. He brings her to the woods she spent the last summer in, and secrets become uncovered.

Von Trier leaves it to the viewer to determine if the woods are evil, or if the macabre happenings of the latter part of the movie are purely the product of grief-stricken minds. Unsettling camera work and disturbing images lead the viewer to one conclusion, while the climactic scenes shatter these beliefs, only to have them returned in the end. Never have acorns caused such tension on the screen.

Revelations come fast and furious, with the movie taking a sharp turn that takes the audience by surprise, even though they are expecting something to happen. Yet even these revelations remain open to interpretation. As I walked home, I found myself rethinking what we'd been shown. Which version of events were credulous? When other evidence presented in the film was recalled, it changed my opinion yet again. This isn't a film that you just walk away from.

As for the title - it's not what you think. This isn't The Omen in the woods. Antichrist seems more a reference to Nietzsche's book - the hatred of nature, the flaws of pity, and the struggle against suffering are major themes in the movie.

Dafoe and Gainsbourg are the only actors in the majority of the movie, and pull off powerful performances. Dafoe slowly turns from a caring husband and therapist to someone who has realized how far gone his wife truly is, and that perhaps he has been more distant and aloof than he realized. When the gravity of his situation dawns on him, he underplays it brilliantly, to the point where you don't realize when it happened until you look back on the film. Gainsbourg begins by earning your pity, but slowly begins to send chills down your spine as her character unravels.

There's a third character in the film as well - von Trier. He imbues every scene with a sense of dread, anxiety, and anticipation. A simple forest breeze seems to carry foreboding with it. A rustling leaf causes that pall of silence across the theatre as people are unsure what to expect. The fact that only a few of moments of tension result in anything plays out fantastically when things go off the deep end.

Our host said that this movie haunted him for two months after he first saw it. For me, that would be a poor choice of words. This isn't a film that leaves you easily, but I hardly find it haunting. Though it is one of the most thought-provoking pieces of cinema I've seen in a long time. But I repeat, it's not for the faint of heart.

I want to watch it over, and probably again after that... the question is - can I stomach it?

That image above? Most disturbing poster I've seen in a while. Yesterday, I thought nothing of it. Today? I can barely look at it.

6 comments:

Julius_Goat said...

Thanks for the write-up, Astin. Since I heard of it, this has been (along with the Road) simultaneously one of the most anticipated and most dreaded releases of the year for me.

Astin said...

I see The Road on Sunday :)

madbrooklyn said...

The poster isn't showing up for me - I assume it's the one with the tree?

Have you seen Miike's Audition - is it as disturbing as that film?

Astin said...

Fixed the pic. And nope. I have Audition sitting on my shelf, still unwatched, so I can't compare.

Only Miike I've seen is Sukiyaki Western Django, which is obviously not one of his gorier films.

But it's much more brutal than most Japanese bloodbaths that I've seen. Nothing particularly fake-looking in this one.

Julius_Goat said...

Audition is still the gold standard in disturbing for me. deeper deeper deeper deeper . . .

madbrooklyn said...

I saw Audition with two guys who really love horror films (I'm a big fan of being scared but not too big on being grossed out) and all three of us were grasping pillows to cover our eyes during the last part of the film.