One of my favorite directors that I have been introduced to over the last year is Lars von Trier. The first film I watched by him was Europa and I absolutely fell in love with his stylish and visionary work. The Danish filmmaker is an absolute artist. Since then, I've viewed a few more films by von Trier and have begun to love his work that much more. That's why when I saw the trailer for his demonic new film Antichrist I felt shivers roll down my spine -- the good kind.
Unfortunately, those in the business of writing about film that were lucky enough to see the new film weren't all pleased as much as I hope to be. One of my favorite film blog sites, /Film has provided a great spoiler-free collection of the early buzz from critics at Cannes from the likes of Roger Ebert to Variety. Click here to read the fantastic work by Peter Sciretta.
I thought a lot about what I was reading. An on site reporter from Reuters claimed that "the film 'elicited derisive laughter, gasps of disbelief, a smattering of applause and loud boos.'" Divided if you ask me.
Antichrist appears to be the real deal in terms of shock value. An account from TheWrap states that "At first, it’s an elegant grief drama. Then — suddenly, shockingly — it transforms into The Shining meets Evil Dead with green politics, torture porn and a fair amount of Lynchian abstractions.” Now, I don't know about you, but that sounds just wonderful to me.
Movileline called Antichrist "the most original and though-provoking work von Trier has done since Breaking the Waves." Another positive sign. Movileline implied that this is a film that has awoken von Trier and is a sort of return to form for the director.
Here's a section I just have to take completely from the /Film blog.
Austin360 : “Director Lars Von Trier has made a movie that looks like it will be more controversial than anything he’s ever done, and that’s saying quite a bit.” … “Since you’re emotionally invested in the characters, the violence that comes later is all the more shocking. It makes scenes from Hostel, one of the so-called gore porn movies, seem tame.” … “It would be a disservice to describe the violence, which would qualify for the one of the hardest NC-17 ratings ever. Let’s just say that it involves sex and sexual organs.” … “you’ll have to see this movie to believe it.”Absolutely wonderful! Caring about the characters is something I've always thought made films like Hostel one and done runs of pure entertainment. Putting stock in the characters always makes for a much more improved experience.
Now you might be asking where the divide comes. It's no secret that material as disturbing as Antichrist appears to be isn't going to be for everyone. For that view, we'll call upon a few other voices.
Roger Ebert, one of the voices I greatly respect in the field of film criticism, writes mostly about the feeling Antichrist gives the viewer rather than the quality of the film itself when he says: "Von Trier is not so much making a film about violence as making a film to inflict violence upon us, perhaps as a salutary experience. It’s been reported that he suffered from depression during and after the film. You can tell. This is the most despairing film I’ve ever have seen." Whoo, sounds like a heartpounder. Ebert is a voice I put good stock in, although he isn't always correct (nobody is always correct).
Variety likens those that might enjoy this film to being "pain-is-pleasure" people or couples. Now come on Variety, lets not be too ignorant here. Oh wait I spoke too soon: "Lars von Trier cuts a big fat art-film fart with Antichrist. As if deliberately courting critical abuse." Mmm how nice, you used fart to qualifiy a film and considered it to be made as if von Trier wanted to yield hatred from the critics.
And finally, my favorite of the evening, Mr. Jeff Wells. Now I don't know who Jeff Wells is and you probably don't either. But after reading the opinion of Wells on the film you would think he'd have to be kind of a big deal. After all, he decided to call the film "one of the biggest debacles in Cannes Film Festival history and the complete meltdown of a major film artist". Oh wait, here's the kicker. I know very well about "Ebert's Law" (the law that says critics can be critics and that you don't have to know how to do something to be able to criticize it) but I'm not sure where Wells gets off calling von Trier's film "amateurishly awful." Wells even begins to lay down the law on stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg by calling the film a definite career embarrassment for the both of them, not only for von Trier.
Now I am not about to say that the opinion of Wells is wrong. He is certainly entitled to that opinion. Hell I haven't even seen the film. The only issue I have with it all is that when I think about myself, as an amateur film critic for a campus newspaper, I would never have the guts to describes someone's work, no matter how bad it is, as "amateurishly awful" or a "major meltdown of a major artist". I don't envision myself ever being important enough to describe art as being that. I'm not saying Wells needs to play nice, but there are far more credibility building ways for Wells to go about this. I might be the only one of this opinion and that's fine with me.
All bitching aside, I do respect the complaints of Wells. He seems to have a smart head on his shoulders, I just don't understand if this is something he should have thought about for a moment or two before publishing. I often believe films are best thought about once you had some time to reflect on what you have just seen, putting it into relation with other films similar to it. Maybe Wells likened it too much to previous von Trier work, which led to him having a completely sour taste in his mouth afterwards.
What I do know is that this appears to be a strong film in the sense of what it can do to a mind. I love buzz like this, it gets me even more amped up for a film than normal. The discussion from critics all across the country and world gathering in one theater to view a film as shocking and destined for cult status as this one must be a thrilling event.
I don't know when this film will see the light of day in our neck of the woods, if ever, but I'll be first in line to see it does make a stop at a local arts cinema. If you're interested in the film, check out the trailer below.