City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Chaos Reigns As Antichrist Comes To EIFF


By Dylan Matthew - Posted on 22 June 2009

EIFF 2009: Antichrist

A couple of hours after seeing Spread (see previous blog) I went to see what is probably the most anticipated film of the EIFF, a film that couldn't be further removed from the charming warm breeze of Ashton Kutcher if it tried. I have folks, survived the ordeal that is Antichrist.

I did it, so you dont have to. I mean that. You
really don't have to see it. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. If you're a normal
cinema-going punter don't go unless you're a masochist. But on the other
hand - it's a kind of thought-provoking, wince-inducing must-see -
paradoxical, eh?

It was the most packed press screening yet and I suspect some people
had to sit on the steps as they just kept coming after the film had
started.

But I doubt the public will flock to this in equally large
numbers unless the controversy of genital mutilation, semi torture and
graphic sex draws them in.

Not that graphic sex and horror has ever
compelled anyone to go to the cinema right? Perhaps just Lars von Trier fans
and a few curious misguided souls. Or maybe it'll do Transformers style
business? I dont think so. But hardened (world weary?) cinephiles and
press hacks like myself are obliged to see the controversial, the
profane and the unbearable whether we want to or not.

When the lights went down you could sense the anticiaption in the air
and feel the reverential hush. If the news that the film featured a
graphic shot of genital mutilation hadn't reached our ears from the
recent Cannes festival along with the news that it was as equally
applauded as it was booed then perhaps this wouldn't have happened and
there would have been a smaller turnout and it would have had more shock value.

It
reminded me of going to see Alien for the first time, knowing in
advance that John Hurt's chestbursting scene existed somewhere in it
and sensing it was upon me when the dinner scene started along with the
observation that half the audience started to audibly murmur and look
nervous.

As with Alien, in Antichrist, every time Gainsbourg picked up any kind of an implement
I twisted in my seat, had a knot in my stomach and had my hands at the
ready to obscure my eyes. Consequently I spent most of the film in a
heightened state of anxiety which may of course be the point of it all.
He just wants us to feel the way the characters do rather than just passively observing
them.

My feeling of anxiety wasnt just because of the anticipated
clitoral snipping shot (yeah, really, 'fraid so) was approaching, but
because it's actually a pretty damn scary film and verges on being a
horror flick albeit in Von Trier's unique arthouse version of one.

The truth is I really don't know what to make of this. I think my
opinion on it will change every five minutes. I can tell you a good
deal of it is burned into the back of my retina and beyond.

On the plus
side...

On a technical level, Antichrist is absolutely stunning to look at and in
terms of performances Willem Dafoe and in particular Charlotte
Gainsbourg are terrific.

They play a couple traumatised by the death of
their young son, retreat to a log cabin in the woods where Dafoe (a
professional therapist) tries to unravel his wife's profound grief by
putting her through phsychological and physical therapy. That's the
story right there. That's all there is.

It's a surreal, dreamlike and usually nightmarish affair evoking (and
dedicated to) the images of Tarkovsky. In particular, many of the
images recall his great work Mirror with its ultra slow motion shots of
wind in the trees, a glowing misty light and objects slowly tumbling
past silent contemplative faces. It's also very Lynchian at times with
haunting close-ups of pulsating skin accompanied by the sound of what
could be Lynch's trademark radiator noise churning and hissing away in the
background.

The most striking scenes are set in foreboding magical
woods full of mist and eerie light. A feeling of dread permeates the
whole experience and this is really a descent into hell and madness
both for the characters and the viewer.

But it lost me in the last half hour when events turn properly nasty. I
felt it became shocking for the sake of it. It also seemed a little
repetitive and slow for a good stretch (where Gainsbourg runs around
the woods shrieking) and I started to get pretty bored. She loses the
plot and...well, I wont go into details but it ain't pleasant.
There's also some really lay-it-on-thick symbolism which I found naff
and unnecessary. Some things in films just don't need spelled out unless
as one colleague suggested after the screening, that you're deliberately trying to
take the piss.

Overall, the infamous scene in question whilst unpleasant is mercifully
very brief as are the other stomach-churning titbits. The real impact
from the film comes from the convincing and increasing hysteria that
Gainsbourg (admittedly brilliantly) portrays and the overall ambience Von Trier has
dredged up from some dark corner of his head.

Some scenes did evoke
derisive titters from some of the press but I just I wanted to wake up
from what seemed like a long bad dream. Von Trier has often been
accused of being misogynistic in his portrayal of women and here, I
felt that this was perhaps the case at times.

But you just never can tell.
You can never be quite sure what you feel or quite what he means and
that's perhaps the appeal and the undeniable power of his work.

Oh, and there's a talking fox in it that says 'Chaos reigns'. The fox turned out to be dead on the money.

Masochists note: Antichrist is showing at Cineworld as part of the EIFF on 24th June, 9pm.