Generally, Danish Dogme practitioner Lars von Trier makes films that critics and audiences alike are either repulsed by or deeply love. Controversial works such as Breaking the Waves, The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark, and Dogville win international awards while also driving people out of theaters. In fact, at his New York Film Festival press conference for Antichrist, he was asked how he feels when no one walks out on his work: “Then I have failed,” he replied with a sly grin. Well, there are sure to be many walkouts during Antichrist, a harrowing tale of grief, pain, and despair that begins with a gorgeously shot, visually graphic sex scene followed by a tragic accident. The rest of the film details how the unnamed couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) deal with the loss of their young child; a therapist, he opts to treat her more as a patient than as his wife, a highly questionable decision that threatens to tear them apart — both psychologically and physically, as the film turns into an extremely violent horror flick in the final scenes. Somehow, we found ourselves pretty much right in the middle of this one, neither loving it nor hating it while admiring it greatly despite its odd meanderings, loose holes, sappy dialogue, and occasionally awkward scenarios. In certain ways, it’s a bizarre amalgamation of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (and various other Stephen King stories), Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Richard Donner’s The Omen, Robert Wise’s Audrey Rose, and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Or something like that. Add half a star if you think von Trier is a creative genius; delete two stars if you consider him a certifiable lunatic.
Antichrist is screening as part of the Quad series “A Week of Sex in Cinema,” consisting of seven films that push the boundary of the depiction of sex onscreen, including John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, Kirby Dick’s documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Chyng Sun’s The Price of Pleasure, Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs, Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue (which opens with one of the most breathtaking sex scenes ever put on celluloid), and the theatrical premiere of Philippe Diaz’s Now & Later; Diaz and the cast will participate in Q&As following select screenings February 18-20.