Chaos Reigns @ Criterion

The most notorious, shocking, controversial, provocative, and, might I add, by-all-regards-beautiful film of 2009 finally comes to DVD. I’m referring, of course, to Antichrist. Antichrist sort of got lost in my film lists – it opened in Ottawa in February, but since it is technically a 2009 release, I never added it to the side bar. (A revision of my top 10 for 2009 is required.)

Antichrist is a graphic descent into marital hell – literally. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe star as a married couple whose relationship stumbles on hard times when their son dies in a tragic accident. The wife is particularly devastated by the loss and regresses into the most brutal form of self-blame. To remedy, her husband (a psychiatrist) suggests that the only way she can overcome her fears is to confront what she fears most. Surprisingly, what the wife fears most is Eden, the couple’s woodland retreat. They go off in hopes of conquering her anxiety and the trip permits the wife some time to reflect on her abandoned thesis, which explores the subjection of women in witchcraft; however, once in the woods, nature turns on them. As She says, “Nature is Satan’s church.”

Like the Eden the couple visits, Antichrist is a maddening melange of horror and beauty. The second half of the film is among the most brutal, visceral, and gut-wrenching pieces in all of cinema. Director Lars Von Trier (Dogville, Breaking the Waves) elicits an adrenaline-pumping and pulse-pounding feat: as the couple turns on each other, Von Trier propels his actors into a barrage of physically and emotionally demanding confrontations that are guaranteed to shock the life out of even the strongest viewers. Watching Antichrist is like being punched in the chest with brass knuckles for 108 minutes, but I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Antichrist, rather, is an oddly enriching film. The breakdown of the couple’s relationship amid the Edenic decay is morbidly breathtaking: the absurdity of Von Trier’s action is greatly complemented by some gorgeous cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire). Mantle captures Antichrist in a grey hue that forebodes the
couple’s bleak journey, but he also orchestrates some stunning compositions within the morning fog that floods Antichrist at its most dramatic moments. Antichrist mainly succeeds, though, through the dynamic work of its two leads. Charlotte Gainsbourg is particularly astonishing as the wife – especially when she goes beyond the brink of madness, Gainsbourg bewitches one’s compasssion through her banshee-like wailing and her wide-eyed hysteria. Antichrist also features what is perhaps the most infamous cameo of 2009: that of a talking fox – he’s fantastic!

Haunting and sublime, Antichrist is one of the few true works of art in recent years. It comes to DVD and Blu-Ray November 9th thanks to the Criterion Collection. (Take advantage of the 50% off Criterion sale at Barnes and Noble and order a copy today!)