Gore galore and more

Shock­ing, in­fan­tile, but also pow­er­ful and pro­found – An­tichrist is all over the cin­e­matic map, which is just how di­rec­tor Lars von Trier likes it, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

IS AN­TICHRIST the sick­est film ever made? Well, is it? Is it?

Sev­eral tabloid news­pa­pers cer­tainly think so and, when it was screened at Cannes ear­lier this year, more than a few se­ri­ous, grown-up crit­ics were pre­pared to join in the mass evis­cer­a­tion. On the other hand, Is­abelle Hup­pert, pres­i­dent of the fes­ti­val jury, was so un­re­lent­ing in her (ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful) ef­forts to put the Palme d’Or An­tichrist’s way that a fel­low panel mem­ber la­belled her a “fas­cist”.

So, Lars von Trier’s post-Chris­tian hor­ror show is, it seems, one of those films you ei­ther loathe (as did my col­league Michael Dwyer) or re­gard as a mas­ter­piece (the dis­tin­guished critic Mark Cousins raved). Apolo­gies, then, for re­fus­ing to abide by the or­tho­doxy, but this sin­gu­lar project strikes me as a per­fectly bal­anced blend of the sub­lime and the abysmal. Rather than a flawed mas­ter­piece, it is more of a gi­ant con­gealed flaw with gristly hunks of mas­ter­piece float­ing about in the bloody as­pic.

Take the bravura open­ing se­quence. To the strains of a del­i­cate Han­del aria, a cou­ple have eye-rolling, monochrome sex on the wash­ing ma­chine and, then, in the shower. Mean­while, their unat­tended tod­dler wan­ders to­wards the win­dow, stands upon the ledge and, in grace­ful slow mo­tion, falls to his death.

It’s a beau­ti­fully com­posed, de­lib­er­ately shock­ing se­quence, but it is hard not to snort at the sight of the child’s teddy bear bounc­ing poignantly onto the snowy pave­ment. Isn’t that what hap­pens fol­low­ing the slaugh­ter of Steven Sea­gal’s soon-to-be avenged fam­ily in the open­ing se­quences of big, dumb action films?

Fea­tur­ing a suf­fo­cat­ing Willem Dafoe as “He” and a hy­per-ki­netic Char­lotte Gains­bourg as “She”, An­tichrist con­tin­ues to deal in this com­bi­na­tion of vir­tu­oso flour­ish and ado­les­cent ba­nal­ity through­out. While the sound­track hums with men­ace, He, a psy­chi­a­trist, vis­its She, a writer, in hospi­tal and queries the treat­ment she is re­ceiv­ing for post-trau­matic stress. Af­ter agree­ing to lay off the med­i­ca­tion, the poor woman ac­com­pa­nies her rather pompous part­ner to a re­treat in the woods. He tries to get her to con­front her demons. She goes steadily crazy.

Now, if you can just shut out cer­tain nods and ref­er­ences, then you should be able to ap­pre­ci­ate An­tichrist as a supreme ex­am­ple of the Cin­ema of Ef­fect. Mak­ing good use of the Red One dig­i­tal cam­era, von Trier brings us into a grey, fetid for­est where roots sprout arms, acorns clat­ter ab­surdly on tin roofs, and an­i­mated foxes take time to say things such as “chaos reigns”.

Wake up to the di­a­logue, how­ever, and you will note that the cou­ple – who have just sinned, re­mem­ber – have found them­selves in a lo­cale called Eden. Do you get it? Do you?

Ev­ery­where, von Trier the tech­ni­cal ge­nius is in con­flict with von Trier the half-bright teenager, and nowhere more so than in those scenes that have riled the moral cru­saders. If you’re the sort of fuddy-duddy that gets of­fended by shots of full sex­ual pen­e­tra­tion, erect penises ejac­u­lat­ing blood and women graph­i­cally sev­er­ing their own cli­torises (that’s some pair of rusty scis­sors!), then you had best stay clear of An­tichrist.

Yet, un­like pre­vi­ous art-house shock­ers such as Pier Paolo Pa­solini’s con­sis­tently stom­ach-churn­ing Salo, von Trier’s film lim­its its more ap­palling mo­ments to a few dis­creet, largely gra­tu­itous out­bursts. Why, it’s al­most as if the se­quences – eas­ily re­mov­able if cen­sors threaten to ban – have been in­serted with the ex­press pur­pose of gen­er­at­ing fu­ri­ous news­pa­per ar­ti­cles. As with Brüno, ob­ject too pub­li­cally and you be­come part of the film-maker’s own diabolical plan.

This be­ing a Lars von Trier film, it hardly needs to be said that the re­lent­less fo­cus on fe­male suf­fer­ing in­vites ac­cu­sa­tions of misog­yny. This time round, with

char­ac­ter­is­tic hu­mil­ity, the di­rec­tor ac­tu­ally in­cludes a con­ver­sa­tion that com­ments (only mildly obliquely) on his own work and on th­ese al­le­ga­tions in par­tic­u­lar. It is per­verse, Dafoe’s char­ac­ter sug­gests, to as­sume that those who re­peat­edly record fe­male op­pres­sion some­how ap­prove of it. Quite the re­verse might be the case.

Is von Trier sin­cere? Is he ever sin­cere? One can never tell. But, for all the fol­lies, in­fe­lic­i­ties and ir­ri­ta­tions within An­tichrist, the film – clev­erly scored, beau­ti­fully shot, bravely acted – surely demon­strates that the Dan­ish provo­ca­teur has lost none of his gifts for rais­ing view­ers’ hack­les.

Of course, you might rea­son­ably sug­gest that he could get the same ef­fect by whack­ing pun­ters with a dirty spade. But don’t sug­gest that to him. He might just try it.

Prey for her: Char­lotte Gains­bourg gets put through the ringer in An­tichrist

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