Cannes ’09 – Antichrist revs up festival-goers

Last Updated: March 29, 2013By Tags:

By ALI NADERZAD I confess: I apprehended a little watching the new Lars Von Trier currently presented in competition yesterday. Von Trier was in the throes of a bad depression just before the shoot and knowing this made me uneasy, though I’m not sure why–artists are often at their best when creating their art in unsane mental conditions. The first ‘projo’ for the film last night (from the French; short for projection) was at 7:30pm and I stood guard on the press room balcony, watching queue developments in front of the Debussy Theatre from above. Something told me it would be safer to try the later screening and I was right. Some colleagues waited in line for forty-five minutes and did not get in.

There are important reasons why so many people want to see this film. Antichrist is the event of the Cannes Festival. Von Trier already won the Golden Palm for Dancer in the Dark in 2000 and many other accolades in Cannes; with Antichrist he visits a new genre and partners up with DP Anthony Dod Mantle, and to positive results. There’s also a fair amount of buzz surrounding the film’s explicit sex scenes between Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe.

Antichrist is about a couple, played by Gainsbourg and Dafoe, who loses their only child, a cherub-like five year-old boy. The mother is devastated, obviously, and the husband, a psychiatrist, suggest they spend a few days in their cabin in the woods. The house itself, deep within dark woods, should be a clear indication that we are in horror film territory. I think that that’s what LVT set out to do in the first place, yet another genre-driven opus.
Bad things start happening after they move to the woods. Very bad things. Gainsbourg, who reportedly was immediately interested in the role, is in top form as the wife who slowly sinks into a psychotic depression, She rises above the level of competent actor and delivers a stunning peformance.

As if Gainsbourg/LVT/Dafoe teaming together were not a good enough excuse to go see Antichrist, Anthony Dod Mantle, a British expat who has lived in Denmark for the last few years, signs the photography and the results are breathtaking, like so many indulgent pleasures–of the illicit sort, that is. Three scenes which help to link the narrative involve Von Trier using a special slow-motion camera he owns. I had heard of this camera and seeing the resulting takes on the big screen was nothing short of admirable. He shoots aerial views of the woods plunged in fog as Gainsbourg’s character walks across the screen, a milky-white figure cut against the dark and sinister woods. It’s a truly tranporting shot, one I feel I have dreamt of before.
Antichrist isn’t for the faint of heart. Remember, this is a horror film by definition. But a genre film authored by a master filmmaker who once again proves himself a worthy contender of the film world’s highest honor. Well done, Monsieur Trier. You deserve this Palme–again.