Cannes 2009: Agent Provocateur ("Antichrist," von Trier)

Hip-hip-hurray for Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, a ballsy B-movie riff off Bergman and Tarkovsky by way of Evil Dead that treads over the whole gamut of art-house clichés, was clearly improvised day in and day out, and emerges from this morass of portentousness and pretentiousness as a hilarious, fucked up and unqualifiable experiment in make it so cinema.  It moves faster and with more surprises than any movie in Cannes—and this despite rehashing only the most overdone of horror and art-house conventions—requires no certain belief in its rationale or plausibility, and jumps from one barely formed idea—visual or conceptual—to another with the reflexive awkwardness von Trier espouses through his ad hoc camerawork and face-slapping jump cuts.  Antichrist is like Herzog—pleased simply to figure out how to record what is in front of the camera as a strange thing; except that von Trier takes more pleasure in constructing his self-aware cinema in post-production.  Unlike Herzog, there is no joy in the filmmaking, but there is an insidious glee in the assembly, in moving from one barely working shot, line, performance, or concept to another, and always, always telling us “that failed, we’ll try this now.”

But let’s get back to the talking fox, as this film is batshit insane.  Poised on the conceit of an overbearing male intellect (Willem Dafoe) fixing the unstable body and psyche of a female (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and funneling them through haphazard horror, feminist, and witchcraft references as if they occured to the filmmakers just that day on the set, the film is nothing but a comical but remarkably unnerving assembly.  Threadbare in emotion and meaning, but insistent on existing, on doing this, on moving to that, on finishing this damn movie, there has rarely been a film that is so hyper-aware of its own movieness, its own sense of itself as something not just being made but that must be ended, written off, moved on from.  Come an idea, come funding, birth a movie.  It's a scavanger film that is only too well aware of its superficial plunder and hurried, frenzied result.  Who needs to think things through, who needs to explore when one simply has to create?  And respect must be given for such creation, especially of the bitterly aware, deranged kind.  Antichrist was made because it could be, and its contents exist because they can—and why not?—and the lesson probably is that this is but a film and there will be others.

Responses

14 responses to this post.  Join the discussion

  • Neil Young

    I reckon that I wouldn’t be shocked or offended by anything in this film. However what I AM shocked and offended by, pretty deeply, is the news that I won’t ever be “allowed” to see it for myself.

    According to Anne Thompson: “I understand that he [i.e. Von Trier] knows that the Cannes Film Festival version of this movie will only be seen here."

    http://weblogs.variety.com/thompsononhollywood/

    Say it ain’t so, Lars!

  • efe

    hilarious, fucked up and unquantifiable experiment in make it so cinema.. you couldn’t put it better than that, Danny.

    looking forward to Haneke and Tarantino now. Is Audiard leading?

  • Tom

    Wow. Can’t wait. Wow.

  • Duc Joie Tran

    “Love it or hate it” press consensus. That’s the Von Trier I have always admired and loved. Thank the gods, he’s back. Tarkovsky and Bergman, proud and rolling in their graves. :D

  • NE1

    “Come an idea, come funding, birth a movie.”

    “Who needs to explore when one simply has to create?”

    Bloody brilliant run-down review, Daniel.
    You captured the spirit of the film you describe,
    in all it’s smirking slapdash & scattershot glory.

    I am teeming to absorb this beast of a film.
    Even though I’ll probably have to wait ’til 2010.

    I would pay $5 to watch it on theauteurs right now.
    Pssh, I’d pay $10.

  • The Fanciful Norwegian

    According to Anne Thompson: “I understand that he [i.e. Von Trier] knows that the Cannes Film Festival version of this movie will only be seen here."

    FYI, Thompson’s deleted this part of her post after being informed it comes out uncut in Denmark tomorrow. But she does worryingly claim that von Trier is willing to make changes to find a U.S. distributor.

  • Neil Young

    many thanks, Fanciful Norwegian. I am currently toying with the idea of a little trip to Copenhagen next week to catch ‘Antichrist’ on the big screen, in the company of paying Danes (and maybe a few Norwegians…)

  • Pacze Moj

    I’m curious about this, from a Reuters article:

    “Many viewers in the large Debussy cinema also appeared to take objection to von Trier’s decision to dedicate his film to the revered Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky.”

    Is the dedication at the beginning?

  • Daniel Kasman

    It’s the first title card at the end of the movie. And yes, it got a lot of laughter at the press screening. I heard the same thing happened last year when Wenders’ ended PALERMO by dedicating it to Antonioni and Bergman. I don’t really see what the big deal is…

  • The Fanciful Norwegian
  • mordlock99

    wow i love to see this film

  • andrethitcho

    you don´t know what you´re talking abaout.

  • Mastroiani

    Whatever the reviewer above writes, is just one way of looking at the film. When Antonioni came out with “L’Avventura” he was laughed at, when Tarkovsky came out with “Mirror” the film was lauded incomprehensible gibberish, should I continue the count of the films that really matter? “Antichrist” will never be on par with those cinema events, but it always ticks me off when pen-warriors dismiss things they don’t like, or better yet don’t get or don’t understand with over-simplified comments that seem to cover up their complex of inferiority before things they are not really grown up enough yet to watch and comprehend.

    As far as dedications go, I think film-goers have slowly and unconsciously turned into movie-goers. What is so funny about dedication? Besides, thinning of emotions and spiritual pan-handling that modern film-goers are used to, I’m sure it’s a sort of jealousy toward film-maker who dare to…

  • Mastroiani

    I just remembered two anecdotes about film critics.

    Kieslowski said about film critics that he wouldn’t trust any of them to frame even the simplest shot of a cup in any of his films.

    And when asked about criticism of his works, the great composer Sibelius told the interviewer: “Everywhere you go you see busts and statues and museums dedicated to artists, have you ever seen one dedicated to a critic?”

    This neatly sums up my attitude toward all pen-waving eunuchs out there. I respect many critics who truly are discovering new works of art, but some are just tired…
    :))

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