I managed to catch Lars von Trier’s Antichrist on its last night at the Landmark Midtown in Atlanta. Long before the dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky appeared in the film’s closing credits, I spotted any number of visual echoes of Tarkovsky’s work. Lesson: if you want your film to look “important,” imitate Tarkovsky. Just mix together some desaturated color, black and white, slow motion, rain or other objects falling from nowhere, shots of wind blowing curtains, Baroque music on the soundtrack, and you’ve got Art.
Actually, Antichrist was neither as bad as the hostile crowd in Cannes seemed to think, nor was it quite as good as Roger Ebert aruges in his review. The performances by Willem Dafoe and especially Charlotte Gainsbourg are remarkable. Gainsbourg more than earned the Best Actress award at Cannes; if I ever watch the film again, it will be because of her. Their reactions to each other and to the tragedy that engulfs them give the film the emotional credibility it needs to work in the face of extreme, at times ludicriously horrific situations. In a couple places the dialogue falls flat, but I think this is due mainly to Trier working in a second language.
Yes, much of the imagery was beautiful, dark and rich. But in some of the darker scenes the photography had that tell-tale, flat video look. Anthony Dod Mantle is a gifted cinematographer, and the smaller camera probably helped preserve the intimacy that the actors needed to pull off their performances, but high definition video still hasn’t caught up yet with good 35mm stock.
Trier’s view of relationships and the gender divide owes much to Strindberg, but I was also surprised to see a deliberate Medieval sensibility running through the film. Yes, the film is misogynistic, but you have to give him credit for taking the whole thing seriously enough to hire a “Misogyny” consultant. That’s one film credit you don’t see very often.