MIFF #14: Lars von Trier’s latest film Antichrist has been dividing viewers ever since its debut at Cannes this year. Some seasoned critics at Cannes walked out, outraged by the genital mutilation presented in squeamish detail, yet Charlotte Gainsbourg won the best actress award at the same festival.
With its reputation of graphic violence, initially I wasn’t too keen to make it one of my MIFF film picks. However, RM pointed out that it was unlikely that such a film would receive general release in Australia without censorship (although I note Britain has allowed the uncut version to be screened), and if you were going to criticise it then at least you should see the full version to make an informed decision.
Well, having sat through 105 minutes of darkness and horror, my informed decision is that this is not a good film. I could almost forgive the scenes of torture and mutilation (look away now) – bashing a penis with a heavy object so that it ejaculated blood, cutting off a clitoris with a pair of scissors and tunnelling a screw through a leg. It’s the kind of violence that invades your memory and makes you feel miserable and dirty, long after the credits roll. It’s just that those graphic scenes overwhelmed the film so much that there was no sense of emotional authenticity in the relationship between the two grieving characters or Gainsbourg’s descent into madness. In addition, the dialogue was fragmented, the plot was implausible and at several points during the film, the audience actually laughed at the ridiculousness of it (cue fake-looking CGI fox snarling ‘Chaos reigns’). It probably didn’t help that the night before I’d seen The Loved Ones, which also featured a sadistic female using power tools and heavy objects as instruments of torture, but in a completely camp manner.
As RM said afterwards, it’s evident that the film is not a work of a sound mind (von Trier was hospitalised for chronic depression before the film). It’s also clear that von Trier holds extremely misogynistic views, as he pretty much casts Gainsbourg as the antichrist and blames the death of her child on her fickle femaleness.