Cannes 2009 Review: Lars von Trier's Antichrist
by Alex Billington
May 17, 2009
Am I as screwed up as either of the characters in Antichrist if I say I had a blast watching this? Maybe it was the excitement in the air before it started, or maybe it was the combination of the laughs, shrieks, cheers, and jeers throughout Lars von Trier's latest film, but I think I enjoyed it. See that's the problem - Antichrist is fucked up. In a good way? Or in a bad way? Even I don't know the answer to that question (or maybe that's something you'll decide for yourself), but I can tell you it's one hell of an exhilarating experience watching this. My gut feeling coming out of it is that I actually liked it, screwed up or not.
I don't want to say anything about what happens in this. Part of the experience is watching it all play out, from the first frame to the last frame. Lars von Trier bookends the story with a prologue and an epilogue, both beautifully conceived and shot exquisitely, and they're essential to getting the full picture. But beyond that, all I'll say is that the story only involves Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a married couple who experience some incredible trauma and then head to their cabin in the woods for therapy. Dafoe is mainly trying to help Gainsbourg, who has the worst problems, but even she can't be fully cured anymore.
The funny thing is that Park Chan-wook, who is known for going to extremes as seen in his Vengeance trilogy, is not the one who went to the extreme this year. Park's Cannes film, Thirst, is tame in comparison to both Bong Joon-ho's new film Mother and von Trier's Antichrist. It's takes a while to get there, but eventually everything goes crazy in Antichrist, and while some will have to turn away, I expect others will lavish in this insanely edgy filmmaking. Von Trier breaks every "rule," but does it in a way that is so beautiful, it's almost hard not to appreciate it. At least, that's exactly what I thought sitting in the theater.
Lars von Trier is a brilliant filmmaker, but he's also fucked up. He's got some personal problems, and some will love seeing him explore those problems through cinema, while some will hate it (right now, I'm for the former). I honestly don't really know what to even think about Antichrist - my mind is still numb from the whole experience. I really expect this to split audiences the same way Michael Haneke's Funny Games does. In fact, I'm very curious to see Antichrist again, because I may have a completely different interpretation the second time around. So be on the look out for that review, as I'll probably have way more to say then.
Cannes Rating: 8ish out of 10