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Antichrist is a 2009 film written and directed by Lars von Trier, starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It follows horror film conventions and tells the story of a couple who, after the death of their child, retreat to a cabin in the woods where the man experiences strange visions and the woman manifests increasingly violent sexual behaviour. The narrative is divided into a prologue, four chapters and an epilogue. The film was primarily a Danish production but co-produced by companies from six different European countries. It was filmed in Germany and Sweden. After premiering at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where Gainsbourg won the festival's award for Best Actress, the film immediately caused controversy, with critics generally praising the film's artistic execution but strongly divided regarding its substantive merit. Other awards won by the film include the Robert Award for best Danish film, The Nordic Council Film Prize for best Nordic film and the European Film Award for best cinematography. The film is dedicated to the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-86). Prologue: With background music "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Handel's Rinaldo (1711).
The unnamed 'Her' (Gainsbourg) is having difficult time coping with her child's death. And who could blame Her? He died during a slow motion, black and white sequence with graphic sex that plays out like an NC-17 Zales commercial. Emotions are fleeting, but the flesh is forever, as the unnamed 'Him' (Dafoe) tries to cure his wife's grief by probing her fears and controlling her physical abuse. As Her fears are tested and revealed, there are allusions to Her mental instability and even paranormal evils. A primal aggression also runs through Antichrist -- from Her slamming her head against the edge of a toilet to a disemboweled talking fox. Along the way, Dafoe and Gainsbourg give the performances of a lifetime, creating characters that we simultaneously sympathize with and fear -- making it all the more frustrating when Von Trier abandons psychological terror for manipulative extremism in the final third.
Antichrist's problems are twofold. The first half of the film gives us raw emotions and characters who will ultimately be tortured to prove an unsupported conclusion. Just as the tension between the couple climaxes, and the film's most interesting questions are asked -- What is the root of Her mental instability? Does human evil come from nature? -Antichrist offers the simplistic and unfulfilling answer that women are simply evil. Genitalia smashing and blood orgasms pound that message into our head in scenes that wouldn't be out of place in the likes of Hostel. But the graphic violence doesn't carry any weight or tragic power, serving instead to distract and take us out of the narrative.
Von Trier's imagery recalls the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror and Sacrifice, especially with the cabin and woods that pulse with earthy tones of green and brown. The film ends with a dedication to Tarkovsky, but it all feels more like imitation than homage, as if Von Trier is resting more on his ability to mimic rather than his own unique cinematic vision. The Russian maestro never had to resort to blatant violence for his message to be felt. He left complicated issues open-ended and allowed us to draw our own conclusions -- a lesson that Von Trier has yet to learn.
Just another Thursday night.