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September 24, 2009

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bill

I didn't read this whole post, because I want ANTICHRIST to be as fresh for me as is reasonably possible at this stage, but I am continually fascinated and intrigued by the confused reactions people are having to this film. I fully expect to share that reaction, at the very least (I loved DOGVILLE, hated MANDERLAY and DANCER IN THE DARK, etc.), but this is the sort of early word that gets me really amped for films.

Matthias Galvin

I totally agree with the charge of it not being very good, but still being highly unsettling. (Though I'm not with Jon Lanthier, I will say that Dafoe's expression after seeing the deer made me laugh quite a bit on my first viewing).

Anyway, all I really can say is that the film (like most of von Trier's other films) displays talent that the man has... But, much like Quentin Tarantino, (and to a lesser extent, Michael Mann; hell, maybe even Michael Bay), he'd be so much better off if he grew up and stopped making Lars von Trier movies.

But then we wouldn't have Antichrist to bug us at night. (though, that's not entirely a bad thing)

James Keepnews

"How irritating is that?"

Pretty damned irritating to a Tarkovsky freak like myself. Who the f*&^ who is truly influenced by Tarkovsky "kind of shrug(s)" about him??? Much less about getting back to The Garden -- yeah, if only he'd thought that through more. I mean, not for nothing, Glenn, but the abysmal _Event Horizon_ cribbed the wife's suicide agon plot point from _Solaris_, as well, but I'm in no hurry to elect any affinities between the two beyond that.

I'm all for being bugged by unsettling works of art, but provocation as an end in itself surely does place LVT squarely in Fulci-ville, a cul-de-sac found only in Zombieland. You have to wonder what mincemeat Andrei "Cinema is a whore" T. would've of made of this not-untalented but pretty loathsome piece of work pieces of work, and the extremely dubious nature of AT's supposed influence on him.

Dan Coyle

Fun fact: it was Glenn Kenny hisself that turned me on to Tarkovsky, in a review of The Crow, of all things. Stalker is a wonderful film.

James Keepnews

There's no accounting for how you get to some of your favorite films and/or directors -- my roommate and I went out to see _The Sacrifice_ because this director had done a version of a Stanislaw Lem novel, viz. _Solaris_. Lem has subsequently diminished in stature for me where the rest of my life feels practically haunted by Tarkvosky.

_Stalker_ is my favorite AT work and, incidentally, is also the name of my essperimental guitar trio, in homage (Ooo! Me and Lars have so much in common now!) to one of the most unforgettably venturesome trios in the history of cinema.

Joseph "Jon" Lanthier

Interesting piece, Glenn. I agree that Von Trier really piles it on in this film -- which I happened to find very funny and somewhat rewarding, but I'm probably in the minority there -- and that it exhibits all of his worst tendencies at their most intense (underwritten characters, gratuitous sexual violence, awkward "woman-as-the-other"-isms, etc). The difference is that all of these elements, along with the perturbingly creepy tone, put me in a good mood rather than a bad one.

I guess I viewed it as a project similar to Dylan's "Self-Portrait," where the goal was not so much to release an obviously "bad" album but to unleash as many indulgences as possible within the span of a double long-player (it was a "personal" record, possibly even more personal than the gossamer role-playing of "Blood on the Tracks"). The difference is that Von Trier as an icon has in no way achieved the unabashed euhemerism of a Dylan, so there's not much need to "debunk" the Von Trier myth. But then, I found that fact to be rather rib-tickling, too..."Self-Portrait" always was Dylan's funniest album.

I discuss part of this in the comments to my piece over at Bright Lights After Dark, which are a bit more concise than the entry itself and even further the Tarkovsky link a shade, if obliquely:

"More than a fear of women, I think Von Trier has a fear of cinema -- of its endless capability -- so like a nihilist he keeps piling on the extremism in the hopes that a filmic deity will counter, or at least disprove, his cinematic free will. In the end all he can do is laugh at himself, and this is Von Trier at his most manic."

don r. lewis

I really, really love "Antichrist" and will go so far as to say it's the most beautifully shot film of the year. I totally agree that there's alot of mishmash in the film, but I also think this is von Trier's attempt to really say something personal. However he's painted himself in the corner as a PROVOCATEUR (!) and simply cannot get away from that stigma. Self imposed stigma that is.

The film and especially the reception of it reminds me of the boy who cried wolf. I always thought von Trier's anxieties and weirdness was mostly an act and a way to add an enigmatic quality to his low-fi Dogme stuff. But "Antichrist" really seems like von Trier's first attempt to vocalize through cinema his many anxieties. Obviously alot of them were pointed out for him by critics over the eyars, but I think he's trying to be serious. At least somewhat.

I also would add "Vertigo" to the Tarkovsky/"Solaris" and "Antichrist" stew. I felt DaFoe's character was using the Gainsbourg's characters psychological demise as a way to recreate his vision of a well trained and therapy-ized wife. I need to see it again but that was a first instinct.

In closing...people who read this blog really should try to see "Anitchrist" with an open mind. While the violence and gore will stick with you, there's much much more going on than the what, 3 minutes of grodiness.

Tim Lucas

I hated it, and I can fully sympathize with Glenn's desire to chuckle at it, moreso than I can with another friend's reading of the film that it's a black comedy. It felt to me like a bad joke, the kind you almost want to laugh at, but can't quite, because you've known the real gravity of human grief, which this film pretends to be about. (I'm reminded of a line from my own review of Coppola's ONE FROM THE HEART: "Can he spare it?") I guess it boils down to whether you think a CGI fox saying "Chaos reigns" is laughable, quotable, or both. The actors give it their all, at least.

Dylan P.

This is a terrible movie. It would have been infinitely better if Von Trier handed the script over to Dario Argento and let him go to town.

bill

@Dylan P - Did you SEE "Mother of Tears"??

Dan

Von Trier has annoyed the fuck out of me for a while, mostly because as he's gotten bigger, he's become less interesting. "Dogville" is just a thesis film with a better cast, and the comparison becomes more apt once you realize he's never been to the US, yet he's trying to criticize Americans. Europeans generally make a hash of anti-Americanism, but Von Trier is worse than most.

bill

@Dan - I'd be with you - and thought I was going to be of the same opinion - regarding the anti-Americanism of DOGVILLE, but when I saw the film, it just didn't play like that for me, until "Young Americans" piped up at the end. For me, DOGVILLE played as a misanthropic slap at humanity as a whole, and I just thought it was coldly gripping. America, specifically, didn't really enter into it.

D Cairns

I'm no fan of this film, but I definitely think the only way to engage with it is to ignore anything Trier says. Even Anthony Dod Mantle, cinematographer, doing his best to explicate the process, seemed to throw up more barriers between us and it. (Although maybe the more barriers, the better?)

joel_gordon

It's always interesting to me when directors play into their public personae during interviews and appearances--Tarantino, Herzog, etc--but less interesting when they start play the part in their actual work. I've only seen Breaking the Waves, The Kingdom, and The Five Obstructions, all of which I adored, so I can't understand the misogynist label that Von Trier seems hellbent on exploiting here, but it would be a shame if he was just provoking people because those same people lazily describe him as a mere provocateur. In particular, no one who made Obstructions, a brilliant, (intellectually) provocative, utterly joyful ode-to-art-making--a filmed Oulipo manifesto, but more fun--could possibly make a film that sounds as ugly, joyless, and dumb as Antichrist sounds. I can't wait to judge for myself. (Note: Not that anyone is keeping track, but I'm using my full name now, since realizing that another Joel posts here. Sorry to Joel for using the name in the past and possibly confusing people. I happen to prefer plasma to LCD, anyway).

Phil Coldiron

I agree wholeheartedly with Don's comment re. Vertigo - at least for the first half or so of the film. Somewhere - ok, not just somewhere, directly at "CHAOS REIGNS!" - I think it takes a turn away from being about Defoe's efforts to "fix" Gainsbourg and becomes about his efforts to justify to himself his perceived inability to "fix" her.

I feel a bit odd defending a film full of so many impossibly idiotic moments and so much impossibly idiotic mumbo-jumbo, but at the same time, I feel like the idiocy there is a lot of the point: both Defoe's platitudinous psychotherapy and the crazy witchcraft nonsense need to play stupidly for this to work (obviously, it could be handled in a more subtle fashion, but I personally think it still works...and creates a more uniquely cringe-inducing tone too). Where my reading of it differs from basically every other one I've encountered so far is that I think this is a movie entirely about Him; to me it's a piece of subjective narrative construction on par with Synecdoche, New York. While I agree with the several folks who have mentioned its beauty, to me even more impressive is Von Trier's work with space as an active participant in the happenings: in his mise-en-scene and his editing, both of which I feel go completely haywire around the aforementioned talking fox silliness.

All of his idiotic symbolism and OMGZ I CAN HAZ PROVOCATION?!!? psychosexual violence has certainly served its (apparent) purpose in convincing people there aren't brains here, which is a shame, I guess. It's certainly hard to fault people for feeling that way.

James Keepnews

Joel -- Not to tease out a single point you make in passing -- and _Five Obstructions_ has been the only remaining LVT film I still sort-of want to see, precisely of its quasi-Ouloopy structure you describe -- but forgive me: _Breaking the Waves_ ranks as one of the rankest examples of cinematic misogyny I've ever experienced and, apart from how much you claim to enjoy it, I'm surprised the misogyny eluded your appreciation of it. So, Emily Watson's bananas naif goes out and fucks whomever she can because Stellan S. tells her she should, and because of some equally bananas assumption that such "sacrifice" will heal her true love? That, and her demise, struck me at the time (and now) as one of the most genuinely hateful narrative progressions I ever sat through.

Mindful of the Tarkvosky discussion above, at least the single instance of "coupling" in _The Sacrifice_ had endless supernatural overtones and was intended to be a sacrifice on behalf of all humanity. And, of course, Erland Josephson truly lives up to the "in dreams begin responsibilities" implications of the act in the conclusion -- featuring, not coincidentally, one of the most unforgettable sequences in the history of cinema. And for LVT in _Breaking_, what do we get? "You can ring my bell," indeed!

don r. lewis

The complaint of misogyny in film really rankles me. I in no way condone the mistreatment of a gender or race, but some people are just fucked up and have grown into fearful, scared people. Lars von Trier had a seriously fucked up mother. She raised him in a nudist colony with no structure or rules. She also never told him the man he believed to be his father, wasn't. And again, not condoning it, but he has his reasons for being terrified of women (just as Hitchcock did) and I'm glad he doesn't hide it in his work.

Zach

On the misogyny meme -

I disagree with the assertion that Breaking the Waves is in any way misogynistic. The behavior exhibited by Emily Watson's character is indeed naive and crazy, but there's no indication that this is meant to be representative of the entire gender. As for the character herself, I see her much more as a tragic figure than as a hateful or pathetic one. She possesses a level of devotion that is tragically idealistic - a fatal flaw, certainly, but one that is depicted with an amount of tenderness that is miles away from any ill-will. Was how I read it, anyway.

joel_gordon

James,
Good point. I realized, as soon as the post went up, that Waves is usually exhibit number one in the case for VT's misogyny. However, your "hateful narrative progression" is my "story of a modern sainthood." Maybe I had just read Schrader's transcendental cinema book, but I thought that Watson's irrationality had more to do with a conversion and eventual canonization than with simply fucking other men for her depressed husband's amusement. Desecrating the flesh in the hopes of raising the spirit--not the prettiest of ideas, but more a Catholic than misogynistic one, I think. This just seems no more anti-woman than, say, Bad Lieutenant (or any Dostoevsky novel) seems anti-man.

James Keepnews

It's deeply strange to me to be come off here as some sort of raging feminist (comparatively), still less as someone suggesting an artist should in any way scale back the breadth of her or his obsessions fueling his/her art -- I adore R. Crumb, for examnple, esp. in the last few decades, which I think says it all.

But, Zach, you don't see _Breaking_ as being misogynist in ANY way? Really? Just a crazy innocent doing her wifely duties for her ailing husband, who, as I note, is the one encouraging her down that "path" in the first place? I don't see her as a hateful figure, either (and I'd be churlish not to give Lars some credit as a director for getting superb actresses like Watson, Kidman and now Gainsbourg to truly "go there" and deliver deeply committed performances) -- it's the narrative path with a "holy" ending that rings incredibly false to me, and was something I read as hateful all the way along, and not just for a wholesale abuse of glam rock in the intertitles alone. Certainly, she's made out to be "tragically idealistic", as how could she not be? Moreover, I wasn't aware a female character had "to be representative of the entire gender" in order for misogyny to obtain -- when has that ever been the case, anyway, outside of "social realism" or similarly propagandist, crudely feminist jeremiads?

Don, is the "complaint of misogyny in film" (no small category, that) really so burdensome for you? You're encouraged to bear up, in any case, as you list two mighty examples of the tendency in cinema. No doubt, we all have reasons from our past to explain our behavior in the present, and it's hardly as if I've suggested LVT or any other artist (R. Crumb does come in pretty handy when I get to this sort of point in arguments as an all-in synecdoche for mania-c artistry) should "hide" this, somewhere. I'm simply suggesting he should make better, less mysoginist art, regardless. Being rankled and yet not condoning "it" (misogyny? chick-terror? they're the same thing? something else?) does strike me as having it both ways, though.

Joel, you do make an effort to understand what I was saying, and since I was going after your assertion initially, I thank you and hope to return the favor. I never read the Schrader entirely, though it's been on the list and someone who professes to love Bresson, Ozu and the not-exactly-feminist Tarkovsky (if not, say, _Hardcore_ or _Light Sleeper_) as much as I do should oughtta read it. I don't know if it would change my assessment of Watson's pilgrim's progress, which you quite pithily and accurately boil down to "simply fucking other men for her depressed husband's amusement", and what she posits as a dubious salvation (and, don't forget, folks, she's CRAZY -- talk about the auteur giving himself a pass). I'm sure LVT thought so, too, and arguably to a fault, or why else would we have that unbelievable (in a few senses) ending? Ladies, be all roundheels for your true love, and along with voyeurism on both sides of the movie screen and a painful demise, you get, as Poe wrote, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells...Without opening your anti-man can of worms, I have less problem with _Mouchette_ or the Anne Wiazemsky character in _Balthazar_ as your flesh-desecration goes than I do with _Breaking the Waves_.

Tom Russell

Quoth Keepnews:

"Moreover, I wasn't aware a female character had "to be representative of the entire gender" in order for misogyny to obtain -- when has that ever been the case, anyway, outside of "social realism" or similarly propagandist, crudely feminist jeremiads?"

Well, because misogyny is the "hatred of women", plural/all-inclusive, I would say for something or somebody to be misogynistic, it would have to be direing hatred at all women or, yes, at a character who represents her entire gender. Speaking generally, and not about Von Trier specifically, just because a character is a bit lacking in intellectual faculties doesn't mean that the director thinks all members of that gender, racial group, what-have-you, are "stupid".

Now, you could certainly make the argument for Von Trier because so many of his specific female characters end up having terrible things happen to them. I'm not contesting your reading of that film, even if I don't necessarily agree with it 100%-- only the idea that any "hatred" directed towards a female character equates misogyny. (There was a discussion on twitter a few weeks back about a similar accusation, levelled against the Dardennes' film LORNA'S SILENCE.)

Ultimately, saying that a particular, specific fictional woman being stupid/naive/destroyed is misogynistic is misogynistic in and of itself, isn't it, because it denies women as an entire gender of the ability to be stupid/naive/destroyed, in fiction or otherwise. They'd be like a bunch of Sidney Poitiers.

(Not that-- and let's be clear-- that I'm accusing anyone here of being misogynistic. I'm just saying that the argument is faulty, because at base it says that women shouldn't be able to have the same character flaws/plot trajectories/what-have-you as men; no one complains that films about stupid/naive/destroyed men are misandrist, do they?)

James Keepnews

Tom -- and sweet Jesus, I can finally limit my statements to a few! -- I disagree with your reading of my reading, and I certainly never meant to imply, simply because Watson's character was clearly mentally-disturbed, that this was the sole reason I consider _Breaking_ to be misogynistic (or, G-d forbid, that women shouldn't be shown as "flawed" in any way in any work o art); I don't believe I do, in any case. If anything, I think such disturbance is handy cover for misogynistic attitudes endeavoring to be, among other things, rendered holy, which would be some kind of narrative hat trick were it successful. As I must have made it exhaustively clear by now, I don't see _Breaking_ as being at all successful, in that way as in so many others.

Tom Russell

James,

Sorry for misreading. I do see your larger point now.

Zach

@James,

I get that for you, the redemptive tolling of the bells rang false (pardon the pun), capping a progression of tragic events that wasn't credible. I can understand this - it's a grandiose gesture on Von Trier's part, and it's the kind of risk that I think qualifies LVT as a serious artist, whether or not you consider it to have been successful.

But again, I fail to see how misogyny plays a part in this. If the fact that she was so extreme in her devotion betrays an anti-women attitude in LVT, then wouldn't that make his attitude towards men just as bad, considering (as you note) that it's her husband who prompts her to start screwing around in the first place? (This isn't a rhetorical question - for me, LVT runs a much greater risk of being a all-around misanthrope than a misogynist.)

Watson's character is another in a long line of pseudo-secular female saints who are undone by a brutal world - I don't see how she can be considered a misogynistic character any more than Blanche DuBois.

James Keepnews

Zach -- I SO want to sneak in something here about two different approaches to relying on the helpfulness of strangers...and I guess I have. As to your question, I'll only observe for whom the bells tolled, and who supposedly tolled them, and how each one got to each place. Beyond this, I'm a total blog hog at this point, and I do understand yours better, so I'm out, y'all. Thanks for the thoughtful reply/ies.

Mh

I Love Lars Von Trier. Genius. Pure and simple!

Ben

I think most of the above comments rather miss the thrust of the film, which basically combines a Bergmanesque plot about a solitary, tortured couple, (and a post-Tarkovsky concern for landscape), with the shock effects of extreme B-movie violence and special effects. These things are usually kept at a great distance from each other in the arthouse. So it's interesting to see them combined with such competence. Even the Italian directors mentioned above don't, in the end, have Von Trier's control.

But if the perfumery of the opening prologue doesn't immediately strike you as ironic, you are either a sap or a schlump. Sorry. I just can't take the mock heroics seriously... This is high comedy, folks. Please. You are given fair warning up front: this is film as postmodern art, composing with the tropes of existing culture.

The real flaw in the film does, however, revolve around its handling of the female character. For me, the protagonists of Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark both started as slightly annoying in their incompetence. By the end, however, I felt terribly sympathetic to them. Von Trier has been criticized for making the same cruel picture over and over again, and it seems this time he has tried reversing the narrative formula by beginning with a sympathetic woman who fairly quickly becomes a flat, pathetic cartoon slasher. I lost all sympathy for Gainsbourg's character at some point.

This shift of character involvement (I won't say development) doesn't have the narrative juice of the earlier films, because I felt pushed out rather than drawn in. I think this was intentional on the director's part, it's just not my taste I guess.

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