Friday, 22 January 2010
For some, it may be decidedly uncomfortable to admit to being hugely impressed by this much-maligned film, given the widespread outrage directed at Lars Von Trier's latest work.
Unfortunately, several extremely stomach-churning scenes have prompted many critics to jump on the bandwagon, with walkouts at Cannes and calls for the film to be banned outright. No matter that this film contains two exceptional performances and deals with the grief experienced following what can only be described as every parents worst nightmare.
Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg - He and She in the credits - play a couple who retreat to a cabin in the woods, following the death of their only child.
While She attempts to find solace through sex, He decides exposure therapy may well be the answer; a method which comes crashing down following discovery of his wife's thesis paper, written during her last summer at the cabin. As the forces of nature gather - most memorably in the guise of 'The Three Beggars' - ANTICHRIST moves from grief, pain and despair to a truly gruelling sequence of events that will test even the most jaded viewer. These highly controversial scenes have been talked about enough elsewhere, which is a good enough reason for not focusing on them here, though I will say that, for me, the most harrowing scene occurs right at the beginning. The death of a child is just about the worst thing that can happen to a family, and the tragic death in ANTICHRIST - shot in monochrome while a beautiful score from Handel's Rinaldo accompanies the falling snow outside - will haunt you for weeks after.
It's inspired filmmaking, yet so damnably hard to watch, and the same can be said for Von Trier's direction of his two leads and their performances.
Although Gainsbourg's descent into violence becomes astonishingly brutal, it's entirely possible that her character will be viewed as more sympathetic than her husband who reacts to their son's death in an entirely different way, as is so often the case with the death of an infant. Here, Gainsbourg reaches incredible heights and Dafoe also excels with looks, gestures and actions that are so strong and yet ultimately helpless. Dafoe and Gainsbourg both carry the huge weight their director placed on their shoulders and deserve way more credit than they've been given.
The UK Blu-ray transfer of this film is a thing of savage beauty, and it's hard to find any area that falls short. Colours are bright and bold, with bags of detail and this disc stands as the perfect home viewing vehicle for Anthony Dod Mantle's stunning cinematography.
Those interested in knowing more about the making of this film will find a more than worthwhile bounty of extras, with valuable input from cast and crew: do look out for the Cannes footage, which includes a laughable self-styled 'friend of the stars' journo who makes a complete prat of himself.
ANTICHRIST offers cinema of the most challenging kind. Look deep inside, and it will stay with you for the right reasons.