AntiChrist Icing

These three are contending that Cannes journalists over-reacted to Lars von Trier‘s AntiChrist, and in so doing revealed their emotionally timid natures plus a lack of historical perspective. Poland/Morgan/Gross have seen AntiChrist but had many weeks, of course, to prepare themselves. What were they going to do — agree with the mob? Whatever their motives they’re clearly bending over backwards to be contrarian for the sake of contrarianism. And they’re flat-out ignoring how amateurishly awful Antichrist is. Forget shock value — I’m talking about basic chops.

The slow-mo “baby falling out of the window” monochrome sequence in the beginning is awful. Dragging out any tragic/violent event in slow-mo is one of the whoriest tricks in the book — second-rate directors have been avoiding it for years. The psycho-claptrap that we hear Willem Dafoe speaking to wife Charlotte Gainsbourgh in the aftermath of their loss is stunning. How could any director-screenwriter have okayed this stuff?

The film is brazen — the word is actually shameless — but there are no surprises or odd moves that startle in a knockout way. (Like, say, the church bells ringing at the end of Breaking The Waves.) All through the damn thing you’re muttering “come on…come on.” There’s no psychological uncovering in any of it. The movie is a blunt tool. Boilerplate notions of pacing and gradual building into the forest-cabin madness that leads to the third-act violence are required but absent. It’s a stunningly sloppy thing — ludicrous, appalling, lemme-outta-here.

You can’t review AntiChrist without acknowledging what Von Trier wrote in his “director’s confession” in the Cannes press book: “Two years ago I suffered from depression. Everything, no matter what, seems unimportant, trivial. I couldn’t work. Six months later, just as an exercise, I wrote a script. It was a kind of therapy, but also a search, a test to see if would ever make another film.

“The script was finished and filmed without much enthusiasm, made as it was using about half of my physical and intellectual capacity. Scenes were added for no reason. Images were composed free of logic or dramatic thinking. They often came from dreams I was having at the time, or dreams I’d had earlier in my life.”

I lost my original review of AntiChrist an hour or so after the Cannes press screening, but I haven’t backed off an inch from what I wrote later that night after wailing and punching walls with my fist: (a) “It’s an out-and-out disaster — one of the most absurdly on-the-nose, heavy-handed and unintentionally comedic calamities I’ve ever seen in my life” and (b) “easily one of the biggest debacles in Cannes Film Festival history and the complete meltdown of a major film artist in a way that invites comparison to the sinking of the Titanic.

“A man whom I’ve admired and respected for many years has lost his mind for the time being, or at least lost it while he was writing and shooting the film. I just can’t fathom how the director of Breaking The Waves and Dancer in the Dark and Dogville could have made something so amateurishly awful. The decent and compassionate thing would be to forget Antichrist and to forgive Von Trier. To put it aside and move on on all fronts.”

  • Uncle Larry

    You’re giving von Trier too much credit, Jeff. He’s a total hype – Dancer in the Dark is shockingly stupid and unwatchable; Dogtown is a cinematic soporific. The fact that Breaking the Waves works at all (and it’s 30 minutes too long, at least) is a tribute to Emily Watson, not von Trier. He’s strictly a product of critical acclaim, not actual talent. He’s a shock artist, a pretentious poser – and the fact that Antichrist is part of the New York Film Festival only confirms what I’ve always believed about that institution as the place where all pretentious movies go to die.

  • George Prager

    I disagree with everything Uncle Larry just wrote, except for the Dancer in the Dark comment. That movie fuckin’ sucked and gave me vertigo. THE KINGDOM is one of the best things I’ve ever seen, THE IDIOTS might be his best movie and THE BOSS OF IT ALL is pretty good too.

  • Travis Crabtree

    Sing it, Uncle Larry!

    I breathed a sigh of relief after I heard learned film people whom I respected eviscerate “Dogtown”.
    I realized I would no longer have to pretend to like von Trier films (“genius!”) to sound urbane at Beechwood Canyon cocktail parties.

  • scooterzz

    “A man whom I’ve admired and respected for many years has lost his mind for the time being, or at least lost it while he was writing …”

    i can think of several threads on this site i would like to apply this quote…may i borrow it?

  • http://kingdomofdoom.wordpress.com/ TulseLuper

    I used to despise Lars von Trier but I’ve been warming up to some of his work recently. You have to separate the filmmaker from the films in his case. He’s clearly a disingenuous provocateur but that doesn’t mean he is incapable of making engaging and interesting films. I loathed Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark but I quite liked Dogville and Manderlay, and I will see Antichrist with an open mind because I’ve heard interesting things about it elsewhere, and judging from clips I’ve seen it looks like it contains some of his finest work.

  • Geoff

    After Poland’s original review a while back I’d assumed Wells and others had overreacted, that Antichrist might not be that bad.

    But after watching some of this, Wells makes a good point about those three deciding to be contrarian. Poland especially, he seems like he read everything about the film beforehand and made sure to come away with a different impression.

  • http://kingdomofdoom.wordpress.com/ TulseLuper

    Also, let’s not forget his reputation as a prankster. I’ll bet you everything he has said about the making of the film is bullshit. He says he had little enthusiasm over the project? He wants you to pick out that quote and agonize over it.

  • Jeffrey Wells

    I worship Dancer in the Dark. Its one of the most striking and originally-conceived musicals ever made.

  • Uncle Larry

    Dancer in the Dark? Not only unwatchable – but unlistenable. The perfect match of pretentious idiots: von Trier and Bjork. I couldn’t stop giggling as she stood there, hooded to be hanged, singing her dreadful music.

  • Travis Crabtree

    And then we parted ways, Larry…..

    I can’t bag on BeeJorker too much. I was a big Sugarcubes fan and her song on “Coachella” is spellbinding.

    What’s that? You wanna link?
    I got your link!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXssY6tGqQQ

  • George Prager

    I’m not kidding when I say that DANCER IN THE DARK gave me vertigo. It lasted for a few days, until I saw ALMOST FAMOUS and somehow my equilibrium righted itself.

  • p.Vice

    Any von Trier discussion that doesn’t involve Europa isn’t worth participating in.

  • George Prager

    Okay, p.Vice, let’s do it. I’ve never seen EUROPA. Is it better than 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG? MEATBALLS II?

  • Edward

    I’m with Jeffrey about DANCER IN THE DARK. I was mesmerized and loved Bjork’s singing and music.

  • Reelist

    Um, the movie is DOGVILLE people. If you’re going to slam something, at least bother to use the correct title.

  • MartinBlank

    Apparently anyone who disagrees with J. Wells on a film is consciously trying to be hip/contrarian/whatever. There’s no possible way anybody could come away from it with something different.

    Like, say, Roger Ebert, who found it profoundly disturbing and worth devoting two blog entries to.

    ‘All through the damn thing you’re muttering “come on…come on.”‘ Speak for yourself, Jeff. “You,” meaning I, did not mutter that at all. I was consistently enthralled. That bullying “you” thing was Pauline Kael’s worst flaw. “You feel this, you feel that.” No, Pauline, you did. Others’ mileage may vary. Jeff, don’t do that.

  • Deathtongue_Groupie

    “to be contrarian for the sake of contrarianism”

    Did the owner of this here blog actually have the balls to write that?

    Really?

    I mean, fucking really???

  • http://fromthefrontrow.blogspot.com Matthew Lucas

    To be honest, after seeing ANTICHRIST I couldn’t decide if it was completely brilliant or a complete disaster.

    I think, somehow, it’s both. It’s wild, messy, audacious, and a work of mad, utterly insane genius. But then, what I like about it is it is so defiantly unlikable and hideous it’s like Von Trier is just flipping off everyone, daring you to like it and daring you to hate it. A trait, I think, of a lot of great art. Wasn’t that the point of Dada after all?

    It’s a brilliant conversation piece. And I think the critics at Cannes who acted with outrage over this film should be ashamed of themselves. Once all the ridiculous hysteria over it dies down, can we finally have an intelligent discussion about it?

  • Fuzzy Dunlop

    Travis, what is the name of that Bjork song?

  • http://landoftheuseless.com AtticusRex

    I for one have only seen a few of Lars’ films. DOGVILLE for me was trite, boring but at times interesting. Lars seems to revel in “Filmmaking of the Absurd”. He likes to helm movies with a “look Ma, no hands” kinda vibe. Most of his work since his invention of Dogma65 seems to be experimental. Sometimes it works but mostly comes across as self-indulgent. Art because it’s Art.

    I remember when Coppola did his whole experimental faze. First up was the unique take on Juvenile delinquency ‘Rumble Fish’ and that was followed with his very unique at the time soundstage film ‘One From The Heart’. I actually enjoyed that movie.

    But back to Lars… I love (But in a way that means I respect it and feel it’s an important film but not something I’ll watch all the time) ‘Breaking The Waves’. I remember when it came out. It formed a 3 way art-house movie event for me. This would be a stellar head-buster to sit through but wow… even though you will be raked over the coals… You’ll still come away better though damaged as well… ‘Breaking The Waves, Priest and The Sweet Hereafter.’

  • MAGGA

    I found Antichrist an absolute bore, and very shallow and, yes, amateurishly shot and acted. I was amused by both The Boss Of It All and The Kingdom, but not much else by him. And I think his whole career might be a prank, an attempt to see if he can get serious people to wax poetically about his infantile art. In which case I kind of like him. Shit, catch-22.

  • Travis Crabtree

    “All is Full of Love”

    Mesmerizing, eh?

    You really should check out “Coachella”…. one of my favorite concert films ever.

  • /3rtfu11

    “All is Full of Love”

    Mesmerizing, eh?

    You really should check out “Coachella”…. one of my favorite concert films ever.

    You like liberal art?

  • http://moviebob.blogspot.com/ MovieBob

    Von Trier is so fucking overrated it’s almost like someone doing a performance-art spoof of what easy lays American critics are for an accent and trite anti-consumerist self-loathing.

    “Breaking the Waves” is a pretty-good technical movie elevated ASTONISHINGLY by Emily Watson. Damn near everything else is a series of pointless, mostly-unsuccessful experiments. Yes, fine, he occasionally puts politically/philosophically agreeable words in the mouths of his characters, but in actual filmmaking terms he’s mostly just jerking-off to his own reflection; no different than Vincent Gallo or Gregg Araki (or Michael Bay, for that matter.)

  • Travis Crabtree

    I heart MovieBob.

  • Matthew Lucas

    “Von Trier is so fucking overrated it’s almost like someone doing a performance-art spoof of what easy lays American critics are for an accent and trite anti-consumerist self-loathing.”

    The irony is that is probably exactly the way he wants you to feel.

    Von Trier knows what he’s doing…he’s flipping everyone off. And along the way he has made some stunning works of art. Whether you like them or not, they make you FEEL something, revulsion, elation, something. Which is exactly what great art is supposed to do.

  • Travis Crabtree

    “What Dreams May Come” made me feel something. It made me feel like I wanted to jump in front of a moving bus after tearing my eyeballs from their sockets and burning them with hot grease. Does that count? Is that art?

  • Bob Violence

    I feel obligated to mention here that the reviews from Antichrist‘s general release (it’s already opened and closed in much of Europe) were notably more favorable than the Cannes reception, which falls into a familiar pattern — the same thing is happening right now with The Headless Woman‘s U.S. release, and before that it was Serbis. Not really surprising, given that much of the “journalism” out of Cannes is based more on the “me first me first” mentality than any serious consideration of the movies.

  • Frank B

    This is a real discussion of ideas. No matter what you think of Von Trier or the movie (which I haven’t seen), this only made me interested in the movie more. Anything that creates outrage, multiple theories, questions, mystery is interesting. As for having “many weeks to prepare themselves,” do you mean they processed the movie, thought about what it was attempting to do and considered both their and the critics emotional responses? Isn’t that what a good critics should do?

  • http://fromthefrontrow.blogspot.com Matthew Lucas

    @ Frank B.

    Amen.

  • free games

    Wells makes a good point about those three deciding to be contrarian.

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