Monday, 27 July 2009

anti-christ (w&d von trier)

Thought #1 on walk back through Notting Hill, the size of the stucco facaded houses still catching me by surprise. Every film of Von Trier's could be viewed as some kind of Situationist provocation, less of a film and more of an artwork. And Anti-Christ is no exception.

Except for Thought #2 which occured before it all kicked off in the final part of the film, which is that Von Trier identifies and tackles subjects that few filmmakers are brave enough to go for. In this case the power of nature and the potential differences between a female and a male consciousness. (Which might exist, and be more subtle than preferring shopping to watching football or chardonnay to rioja, or any of the other neutralised terms in which that difference has come to be permitted within a consumer culture.) Among other things. If you removed the graphic sex, and the somewhat operatic prologue, there's a serious treatise looking to be made, no matter how much the fireworks would appear to distract.

Thought #3: the film's dedicated to Tarkovsky, which many will consider a cheek of itself, but there's also echoes of Antonioni and obviously Don't Look Now, as well as Mercy and probably a few hundred horror flicks I've never seen. His engagement with the medium is so much more absolute than any of his contemporaries. My brother gave me the box set of his first three films for Christmas, and its astonishing how visually and technically assured a filmmaker he was from the beginning. His relationship with Dogme was always a game within a game; and in Anti-Christ his capacity to conjure astonishing imagery goes hand in hand with Dodd Mantle's shaky, edge of the bed camerawork. All of which contributes to the constant presence of the filmmaker behind the lens, playing with his audience, challenging and provoking them and sometimes laughing (with or at) them - in particular in the beautifully cheeky talking fox moment. Von Trier is as Brechtian as Godard, whilst also being as big a showman as Tony Scott. The contradictions are part of his charm.

I have just written and scrubbed Thought #4 which was along the lines of whether the film, in all its excessive dramatic glory, is any good or not. You're going to be a fairly strange type of character if you get through the final scenes and say that you enjoyed them. Then again, as Von Trier is well aware (he sometimes makes porn films), the things that disturb are just the flip side of the kind of things people watch for their most basic pleasure. They're all images, so what's not to like? (The scene with Dafoe being dug out of the mud seemed to even hint at Ian's fate in Blasted). For every Von Trier film I like there's one I don't like (mas o menos). In a way that's all part of the game which the director is playing, reminding you that he's on his side of the fence and you're on yours, and through that act of reminding bringing us closer together. It's not about liking what's going on: it's about the taking part. And it's pretty hard not to feel as though you've participated in something, no matter how gratuitously gruelling, along with the poor actors Dafoe and Gainsbourg. This is not far off being cinema as mud wrestling, and what else should we want cinema to be?

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