Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lars Von Trier's ANTICHRIST opens: all this -- and Bambi, too!

To read the press kit for ANTI-
CHRIST (Lars von Trier's latest) after viewing the film is to court befuddlement. All this talk of Berg-
man & Strindberg, Nietzsche and Munch, Dracula and Catholicism. Ah, Lars, you devil: still posses-
sing that peculiar ability to make nothing from nothing while imagining that you're on to
something. (I am not one of those who thinks von Trier is a poseur or a phony. I believe he imagines that he's contributed something to the film canon. Which makes his work all the sadder.) In the case of Anti-
, there is a modicum of "there" there: A child dies while his parents are having a good rut (see below). Unfortunately, the sequence goes on until nearly forever, and so the director effectively ruins it. The trailer for the film shows the same thing in a much-abbre-
viated form that works ten times better: Who does your trailers, Lars? Use him for your features!

Grief ensues, as expected, but the form this grief takes soon grows boring, then ridiculous, and then grizzly. Granted, it not like much else we've seen. Or heard. Wooden dialog abounds ("On the contrary" is one of many fake-sounding phrases that pass from husband to wife during intimate or intense moments). This is handled better by Willem Dafoe (above and below, right) than by one of TrustMovies' favorite actresses, Charlotte Gainsbourg (above and below, left). Dafoe colors his lines with some interesting inflections, but Gainsbourg seems unable to inflect. Has she been in France too long? I've certainly heard her speak English better than she does here (Jane Eyre, for instance), and her performance alternates between near-catatonic and hysterical (both of which become tiresome fast) with little in between. I admit that it is probably very difficult to inflect when you're playing either a zombie or a nutcase. That Gainsbourg won Best Actress at Cannes is an embarrassment, given how very good she's been elsewhere.

So, then, if the dialog sucks, what about the visuals? That oft-seen scene (in ads, PR, the trailer and on the poster, shown at top) of the couple screwing against a big, barren tree, with hands and arms protruding from the roots, is visually interesting but relatively meaningless and, in any case, leads nowhere. The director shows us deer & dick with equal facility, including a nauseating doe-birth-
ing-a-dead-fawn scene. Genital mutilation? Check. Oh, yes: There's that equation of falling child with falling bird. Plus a talking fox who tells us, "Chaos reigns." But this is von Trier; we knew that.

Although this writer/director may imagine he has something to say about loss and grief, nature and humanity, his movie says almost nothing -- and badly at that, despite some occasional cinematog-
raphy worth watching (from Anthony Dod Mantle). It succeeds on no level whatsoever: not as psychology, metaphor or reality, not as thriller, drama, black comedy or horror. Think of it, finally, as this filmmaker's oneupsmanship response to the torture porn of Hostel and Saw, or better, as a kind of Friday the 13th for pretentious adults, in which the perps and victims are one in the same. Can you dig it? Gainsbourg can -- and does (with a shovel) -- in one of the silliest scenes in recent memory. But, then, there are so many to choose from: Antichrist is as interminable as it is pointless.

The film opens on Friday, Oct. 23, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the IFC Center. All photos are from Antichrist, except that of Mr. von Trier.

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