I am an antichrist. I am an anarchist. Oh how controversial of Lars Von Trier, borrowing words that have been bandied around popular "rebellious" culture since 1976. Only 33 years late Lars, with your oh so shocking tale of love, loss, obsession and badly staged genital mutilation.
I am not, it should be said, one of the critics who worships every blasted turd that drips out of lars VOn Trier's overrated arse. I thought Dogme, while an interesting concept, resulted in a series of, basically, unwatchable films, the non-rules of this self-imposed genre as pretentious and annoying in their own way as the non-realism of Hollywood they were a reaction against.
Some good did come from it — Susannah Bier is an astonishing director — and, it must be said, I've liked some of Von Trier's works. Breaking The Waves is still capable of removing ones breath at regular intervals, and The Boss Of It All was, despite the odd moment of art wankiness, an enjoyable and satisfying modern comedy of business manners.
Antichrist though is a film about nothing that delivers nothing, other than an opportunity for people who should know better — you know, those eternal art student types who are so far up their own arses they could bite their own tonsils — to stroke their beards, both real and metaphorical, and talk about what Von Trier is "really trying to say". I'll tell you what he's saying. He's saying fuck all other than, potentially, "here's final proof that I'm the biggest misogynist on the planet and should never be allowed near a camera again."
A couple — the film's only two characters, and known only as "He" and "She" — start the film with an energetic bout of beautifully shot lovemaking. Here then is Von Trier's first "shock": about three seconds of close-up penetration. If you've never seen a porn film or spent five minutes on the internet , that might indeed be shocking. For the rest of us... nah. Next.
That's followed by a scene that's beautiful and poetic and heart-stopping: the couple's young son, unheard by his parents, has wandered out of his room, through assorted child locks and safety devices and has slipped to his death from a window.
The remainder of the film is the couple coming to terms with their loss and, ostensibly his attempts, as a psychiatrist, to get his wife through her grief. Cue a lot of talking, a lot of crying, a lot of strange animal interaction at their cabin in the wilderness, a lot of talk about her unfinished thesis — the torture of the female through the ages — and then the supposedly shocking moments of graphic violence. She smacks him in the pods with a piece of wood, then masturbates him to a bloody ejaculation. She drills a hole through his leg and bolts him to a weight, before throwing away the wrench. She masturbates furiously outside in the mud. She takes a pair of shears and performs self-circumcision. Hmm, yeah...
You can't question the commitment of the leads, however and both are excellent. Gainsbourg certainly deserved her Cannes prize if only for bravery. It's a thankless role and she lives and breathes it. The film is also astonishingly beautiful at times, with cinematography that suggests Von Trier's commitment to Dogme died the moment he watched a Blu-Ray.
However, despite the positives, the total is all just more furious masturbation: it is, quite literally, art wank. The "graphic" scenes of violence come after obvious cuts and feature prosthetics so rubbery a child would know none of it’s real. Contrast that with, say, the murder in Irreversible, where I'm still not convinced Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel didn't genuinely kill a fellow actor with a fire extinguisher. That scene — hell, that entire film — ripped the audience to shreds and I still find myself thinking about it regularly seven years on. Antichrist's shocks and supposed cutting edge rebellion have all the power of a small child shouting "knob" and "bum" and "poo". It's not big, it's not clever and, whatever anybody else may say, it's not any bloody good either.