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Antichrist

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lars von Trier
Produced by Meta Louise Foldager
Written by Lars von Trier
Starring Willem Dafoe
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Cinematography Anthony Dod Mantle
Editing by Anders Refn
Studio Zentropa
Distributed by Nordisk Film (Scandinavia)
IFC Films (United States)
Artificial Eye (United Kingdom)
Release date(s) Cannes Film Festival:
18 May 2009
Denmark:
20 May 2009
United Kingdom:
24 July 2009
United States:
23 October 2009
Australia
26 November 2009
Running time 109 minutes
Country Denmark
Germany
France
Sweden
Italy
Poland
Language English
Budget $11,000,000
Gross revenue $300,326

Antichrist is a 2009 horror film written and directed by Lars von Trier, about a couple who, after the death of their child, retreat to a cabin in the woods where their growing insanity becomes manifest in strange visions and increasingly violent sexual behavior. Most of the film features only two actors, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe, plus the child at a couple points in the film. The narrative is made up of a prologue, four chapters and an epilogue. Primarily a Danish production, the film was also co-produced with companies from five other countries.

After premiering at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where Gainsbourg won the festival's award for Best Actress, the film came under attack for what some critics view as misogyny, as well as for featuring explicit sexual violence. At the same time many critics praised the film for its visuals and serious approach. Other awards include the Robert Award for best Danish film, The Nordic Council Film Prize for best Nordic film and the European Film Award for best cinematography.

Contents

Plot

Prologue: A couple passionately has sex, while their young son (Nic) climbs out of his crib, and climbs onto a desk by an open window. The son falls to his death on the snowy ground below. At the same moment, She is seen in silent sexual climax.

Chapter One: Grief: During Nic's funeral, She collapses. The other mourners gather around her, seen with their faces blurred. She spends the next month in the hospital, in and out of consciousness and with little concept of time. When she awakens, She is crippled with grief. He, a therapist, is distrustful of the psychiatric care she is receiving, and takes it upon himself to talk his wife through the grief process. After a less-than-fruitful time of catharsis at home, during which She tries to free herself from the physical pain resulting from her child's death by having sex, He decides to try exposure therapy. He learns that her greatest fear concentrates on a cabin called Eden, at which she spent time with Nic the previous summer, while writing a thesis on gynocide.

The couple travels to Eden. During the journey, while She sleeps, He encounters a deer who does not show fear of him. As the deer turns to leave, He sees a dead fawn hanging from her rear.

Chapter Two: Pain (Chaos Reigns): They continue toward the cabin. Upon encountering a foot-bridge, She is overcome with fear. She sprints across the bridge and into the forest, leaving her husband to journey after her. It is late evening when He arrives at the cabin, to find her fast asleep. While at the cabin, during sessions of psychotherapy, She becomes increasingly manic and grief-stricken. Meanwhile, the environment surrounding the cabin becomes increasingly sinister: acorns pelt the cabin like rapid gunfire, He awakes to find his left hand covered in swollen dog ticks, and at one point He comes across a self-disembowelling fox who utters the words "Chaos reigns."

Chapter Three: Despair (Gynocide): He finds his wife's thesis studies: pictures of witch-hunts and a scrap-book filled with articles and notes on misogynist topics, in which her writing becomes more frantic and illegible as the pages go on. She comes to believe that women are inherently evil. Nic's autopsy report states that the bones in both of his feet were deformed. He finds photographs of Nic, in which his boots are always on the wrong feet. She suddenly attacks her husband, stabbing him and then disrobing and mounting him while accusing him of planning on leaving her. She then crushes his testicles with a block of wood. While he is unconscious, She masturbates him until he orgasms, ejaculating blood onto her shirt and face. She drills a hole through his leg, and bolts a heavy grind-stone through the wound. She flees outside, throwing the wrench she used to tighten the grind-stone beneath the cabin.

He wakes and drags himself to a fox-hole in which he hides. While She frantically searches for him, He finds a crow buried alive. The crow, scared, starts to make a repeating, loud sound, which would inform her about the location of He. He beats it repeatedly, but it survives and keeps making that sound. Eventually, She finds him and tries to pull him out. She fails to take him and decides to bury him there alive with a shovel she brings.

Chapter Four: The Three Beggars: Several hours pass, night falls, and, weeping, She apologizes and helps to drag her husband back to the cabin. Once again in the cabin, She cryptically tells her husband that he was not meant to die yet, but that one must die when the three beggars arrive. In a flash-back to the prologue, it is implied that She saw what was about to happen to Nic and did not act. She takes a pair of scissors and severs her clitoris, letting out a tortured scream.

During the night the couple is visited by the crow, deer and fox, and hail beats against the roof of the cabin. Breaking through the floor, He discovers the wrench. She then stabs him in the back with the scissors. He eventually removes the grind-stone, and his wife stops fighting him. He strangles her, killing her. He burns Her on a pyre outside the cabin.

Epilogue: He makes his way from the cabin, eating berries from the ground. Upon reaching the top of a hill, he looks down to see hundreds of women ascending towards him, their faces blurred. The women walk around and past him as the three beggars look on.

Cast

  • Willem Dafoe as He: Dafoe, who had previously worked with Lars von Trier in Manderlay from 2005, was cast after contacting Trier and asking what he was working on at the moment. He received the script for Antichrist, although he was told that Trier's wife was skeptical about asking a renowned actor like Dafoe to do such an extreme role. Dafoe accepted the part, later explaining its appeal to him: "I think the dark stuff, the unspoken stuff is more potent for an actor. It’s the stuff we don’t talk about, so if you have the opportunity to apply yourself to that stuff in a playful, creative way, yes I’m attracted to it."[1] The voice of the talking fox was also supplied by Dafoe, although the recording was heavily manipulated.[2]
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg as She: French actress Eva Green was initially approached for the female lead. According to Trier, Green was positive to appearing in the film, but her agents refused to allow her. The unsuccessful casting attempt took two months of the pre-production process. Eventually Gainsbourg turned up, and by Trier's words she was very eager to get cast: "Charlotte came in and said, 'I'm dying to get the part no matter what.' So I think it was a decision she made very early and she stuck to it. We had no problems whatsoever."[3]

Production

Development

Antichrist was originally scheduled for production in 2005, but its executive producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen accidentally revealed the planned ending. Lars von Trier was furious and decided to delay the shoot so he could rewrite the script.[4]

In 2007 Trier announced that he was suffering from a depression, and that it was possible that he never would be able to make another film. "I assume that Antichrist will be my next film. But right now I don't know," he told the Danish newspaper Politiken.[5] During an early casting attempt, English actors who had come to Copenhagen had to be sent home, while Trier was crying because his poor condition did not allow him to meet them.[6]

The title was the first thing that was written for the film. The post-depression version of the script was to some extent written as an exercise for Trier, to see if he had recovered enough to be able to work again. Trier has also made references to August Strindberg and his Inferno Crisis in the 1890s, comparing it to his own writing under difficult mental circumstances: "was Antichrist my Inferno Crisis?"[7] Several notable names appear in the credits as having assisted Trier in the writing. Danish writer and directors Per Fly and Nikolaj Arcel are listed as script consultants, and Anders Thomas Jensen as story supervisor. Also credited are researchers dedicated to fields including "misogyny", "anxiety", "horror films" and "theology".[8]

Production was led by Trier's Copenhagen-based company Zentropa. Co-producers were Sweden's Film i Väst, Italy's Lucky Red and France's Liberator Productions, Slot Machine and Arte France. The Danish Film Institute contributed with a financial support of $1.5 million and Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany with $1.3 million. The total budget was around $11 million.[9]

Pre-production

Props for the more violent scenes were provided by the company Soda ApS, and made in their workshop in Nørrebro, Copenhagen. Plaster casts were made of Willem Dafoe's leg and the female "porno double's" sexual organ. A plastic baby with authentic weight was made for the opening sequence. Pictures found using Google Image Search had to serve as models for the stillborn deer, and a nylon stocking was used as caul. The vagina prop was constructed with its inner parts detachable for easy preparation if several takes would be needed.[10] Czech animal trainer Ota Bares, who had collaborated with parts of the crew in the 2005 film Adam's Apples, was hired early on and given instructions about what tasks the animals must be able to perform. The fox was for example taught to open its mouth on a given command to simulate speaking movements.[11]

To get into the right mood before filming started, both Dafoe and Gainsbourg were shown Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror from 1975. Dafoe was also shown Trier's own 1998 film The Idiots, and Gainsbourg The Night Porter to study Charlotte Rampling's character.[12] Dafoe also met therapists working with cognitive behavioral therapy as well as being present at actual sessions of exposure therapy and studying material on the topic.[1]

Filming

Filming took 40 days to finish, from 20 August to the end of September 2008. Because of economic benefits the film was shot in the German state North Rhine-Westphalia. Locations were used in Rhein-Sieg-Kreis, part the Cologne region, and Wuppertal. It was the first film by Lars von Trier to be entirely filmed in Germany.[13] The film was shot on digital video, primarily using Red One cameras in 4K resolution. The slow motion sequences were shot with a Phantom V4 in 1,000 frames per second. Filming techniques involved dollys, hand-held camerawork and computer-programmed "motion control", of which the team had previous experience from Trier's 2006 film The Boss of It All. One shot, where the couple is copulating under a tree, was particularly difficult since the camera would switch from being hand-held to motion controlled in the middle of the take.[11]

Trier had not recovered completely from his depression when filming started. He repeatedly excused himself to the actors for being in the mental condition he was, and was not able to operate the camera as he usually does, which made him very frustrated.[12][6] "The script was filmed and finished without much enthusiasm, made as it was using about half of my physical and intellectual capacity," the director said in an interview.[7]

Post-production

Except for the eyes and ears, the face of the fox was animated by computer.

Post-production was primarily located to Warsaw, Poland, and Gothenburg, Sweden. Over the time of two months, the Poles contributed with about 4,000 hours of work and the Swedes 500.[11] The film features 80 shots with computer-generated imagery, provided by the Polish company Platige Image. Most of these consist of digitally removed details such as the collar and leash used to lead the deer, but some were more complicated. The scene where the fox utters the words "chaos reigns" was particularly difficult to make. The mouth movements had to be entirely 3D animated in order to synchronise with the sound.[14]

The aria "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Georg Friedrich Händel's opera Rinaldo is used as the film's main musical theme.[15] The aria has previously been used in other films such as Farinelli, a 1994 biographical film about the castrato singer Farinelli.[16] The eight-track soundtrack features both versions of Lascia ch'io pianga and selected extracts of the "score" created by sound designer Kristian Eidnes Andersen.

Release

The film premiered during the Competition portion of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival to a mixed response from the audience.[17][18] At least four people fainted during the preview due to the film's explicit violence.[19] At the press conference following the screening, Lars von Trier was asked by a journalist from the Daily Mail to justify why he made the film, to which the director responded that he found the question strange considering the audience as his guests "not the other way around" before claiming to be the best director in the world.[20] Charlotte Gainsbourg won the Cannes Film Festival's award for Best Actress.[17] The ecumenical jury at the Cannes festival gave the film a special "anti-award" and declared the film to be "the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world".[19][21][22] Cannes festival director Thierry Frémaux responded that this was a "ridiculous decision that borders on a call for censorship" and that it was "scandalous coming from an 'ecumenical' jury".[22] The "talking fox" was nominated for the Palm Dog, but lost to Dug from Up.[23]

Two versions were available for buyers at the Cannes film market, nicknamed the "Catholic" and "Protestant" versions, where the former had some of the most explicit scenes removed while the latter was uncut. The uncut version was released theatrically to a general audience on 20 May 2009 in Denmark. It was acquired for British distribution by Artificial Eye and American by IFC Films.[24] In Britain and Ireland, Antichrist was released uncut with an 18 certificate.[25] The British Advertising Standards Authority received seven complaints about the film poster, which was based on the original poster and shows the couple as they are having sexual intercourse. The organization decided to approve the poster, finding it to not be pornographic since its "dark tone" made it "unlikely to cause sexual excitement". An alternative poster, featuring only quotes from reviews and no image at all, was used in outdoor venues and as an alternative for publishers who desired it.[26]

Reception

In Denmark, the film quickly became successful with both critics and audiences.[27][28] Politiken called it "a grotesque masterpiece," giving it a perfect score of 6 out of 6, and praised it for being completely unconventional while at the same time being "a profoundly serious, very personal ... piece of art about small things like sorrow, death, sex and the meaninglessness of everything."[29] Berlingske Tidende were a bit confused about the nature of the film, but gave it a rating of 4 out of 6 and praised the "peerless imagery," and how "cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle effectively switches between Dogme-like hand-held scenes and wonderful stylized tableaux."[30] An exception was Claus Christensen, editor of the Danish film magazine Ekko. Christensen accused the other Danish critics of overrating the film, himself calling it "a master director's failed work."[31] Around 83,000 tickets were sold in Denmark during the theatrical run, the best performance by a Lars von Trier film since Dogville. [32] The film was nominated by Denmark for The Nordic Council Film Prize, which it won.[33] Antichrist went on to sweep the Robert Awards, Denmark's main national film awards, by winning in seven categories: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematographer, Best Editing, Best Lighting Design and Best Special Effects.[34]

As of 9 February 2010 (2010 -02-09) the film had a 49% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 137 reviews, with an average rating of 5.4 out of 10.[35] Chris Tookey for Daily Mail started his review by noting that the film contains "a few images of startling beauty," but soon went on to call it "offensively misogynistic" and "needlessly graphic." He also listed other films that preceded Antichrist in showing explicit sex, genital self-mutilation and "women torturing men for pleasure," eventually giving the film one star out of five.[36] Blog Critics reviewer, Ross Miller, said it, "can't be completely discounted as, admittedly, it is a well made film, one that features two excellent lead performances from [Willem] Dafoe and [Charlotte] Gainsbourg." But nonetheless he found it to be, "a disgusting piece of work that aims to do little more than shock and provoke its audience in any way it possibly can."[citation needed]

In the British magazine Empire, film critic Kim Newman noted that "von Trier’s self-conscious arrogance is calculated to split audiences into extremist factions, but Antichrist delivers enough beauty, terror and wonder to qualify as the strangest and most original horror movie of the year."[37]

In Australia's The Monthly, film critic Luke Davies viewed the film as "a bleak but entrancing film that explores guilt, grief and many things besides ... that will anger as many people as it pleases", describing von Trier's "command of the visually surreal" as "truly exceptional". Davies described the film as "very good and very flawed", conceding "it is not easy to understand the meaning or intention of specific images and details of the film" but still concludes that "there’s something neurotic and reactionary in the controversy and near-hysteria surrounding the film."[38]

Film director John Waters hailed Antichrist as one of the ten best films of 2009 in Artforum Magazine, stating "If Ingmar Bergman had committed suicide, gone to hell, and come back to earth to direct an exploitation/art film for drive-ins, [Antichrist] is the movie he would have made."[39]

The film won the award for Best Cinematographer at the 2009 European Film Awards, shared with Slumdog Millionaire as both films were shot by Anthony Dod Mantle. It was nominated for Best Director and Best Actress but the awards went to Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon and Kate Winslet for The Reader respectively.[40]

Video game

According to the Danish newspaper Politiken, a video game called "Eden," which is based on the film, is in the works. It will start where the film ends. "It will be a self-therapeutic journey into your own darkest fears, and will break the boundaries of what you can and can't do in video games," says video game director Morten Iversen.[41]

References

  1. ^ a b Bourgeois, David (2009-05-20) "Antichrist's Willem Dafoe: 'We Summoned Something We Didn't Ask For'". Movieline.com. Retrieved 2009-06-11.
  2. ^ Goodsell, Luke (2009-11-23). "'I Don't Hate Women': Lars von Trier on Antichrist". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
  3. ^ Crocker, Jonathan (2009-07-22) "RT Interview: Lars von Trier on Antichrist." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved on 2009-07-22.
  4. ^ Vestergaard, Jesper (2005-04-08). "Lars von Trier dropper Antichrist" (in Danish). CinemaZone. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
  5. ^ Møller, Hans Jørgen (2007-05-11). "Von Trier: Jeg kan ikke lave flere film" (in Danish). Politiken. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
  6. ^ a b Thorsen, Nils (2009-05-17). "Lars von Trier: Det hjemmelavede menneske" (in Danish). Politiken. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
  7. ^ a b Aftab, Kaleel (2009-05-29). "Lars von Trier - 'It's good that people boo'". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-05-29.
  8. ^ Antichrist. Danish Film Institute. Retrieved 2009-12-07.
  9. ^ Rehlin, Gunnar (2008-07-30). "Von Trier's 'Antichrist' moves ahead - Financing complete on English-language film". Variety. Retrieved 2008-12-27
  10. ^ Fyhn, Mikkel (2009-05-23) "Mød effektmændene bag Triers mareridt" (in Danish). Politiken. Retrieved on 2009-05-31.
  11. ^ a b c "Samlejescene med masser af håndarbejde" (in Danish). AudioVisuelle Medier. May 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-07
  12. ^ a b Bo, Michael (2009-05-23) "De overlevede Antikrist - og von Trier" (in Danish). Politiken. Retrieved 2009-05-24.
  13. ^ "Lars von Trier dreht „Antichrist“ in NRW – Ein Settermin" (in German). Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen. Retrieved 2009-12-06.
  14. ^ (2009-06-02) "Efekty specjalne w Antychryście" (in Polish). Platige Image Community. Retrieved on 2009-06-18.
  15. ^ Antichrist Pressbook (PDF). Artificial Eye. Retrieved on 2009-07-28.
  16. ^ Haynes, Bruce, The end of early music, Oxford University Press US, 2007, p. 25. ISBN 0195189876
  17. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Antichrist". festival-cannes.com. http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/archives/ficheFilm/id/10893001/year/2009.html. Retrieved 2009-05-09. 
  18. ^ "Lars von Trier film "Antichrist" shocks Cannes". reuters.com. http://www.reuters.com/article/entertainmentNews/idUSTRE54G2JF20090517. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  19. ^ a b "'Anti-Christ' gets 'anti-prize'". 2009-05-23. http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=CNG.3ff5f563e4f692f820d871bea23b313d.e91&show_article=1. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  20. ^ Roxborough, Scott (2009-05-18). "Lars von Trier speared over 'Antichrist'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  21. ^ Stone, Jay (2009-05-23). "Antichrist gets an anti-award in Cannes" at National Post. Retrieved on 2009-05-23.
  22. ^ a b Cannes jury gives its heart to works of graphic darkness
  23. ^ "Pixar pooch picks Up Cannes prize". BBC Online. 2009-05-22. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
  24. ^ Pham, Annika (2009-05-22) "Antichrist sold to UK and US." Cineuropa. Retrieved on 2009-05-26.
  25. ^ Larn, Paul (2009-06-12) "Cannes Sensation ANTICHRIST To Be Uncut In The UK." The Cinema Post. Retrieved on 2009-06-11.
  26. ^ Sweney, Mark (2009-11-04). "Antichrist sex ads escape ban". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  27. ^ Fiil-Jensen, Lars (2009-05-26) "Publikum vil se 'Antichrist'" (in Danish). FILMupdate. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
  28. ^ http://www.nordiskfilmogtvfond.com/news_story.php?cid=1591&sid=10&ptid=4 Nordisk Film & TV Fond: Antichrist Wins Award and Danish Audiences
  29. ^ Skotte, Kim (2009-05-17). "'Antichrist' er et grotesk mesterstykke" (in Danish). Politiken. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
  30. ^ Iversen, Ebbe (2009-05-18). "Fire stjerner til »Antichrist«" (in Danish). Berlingske Tidende. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
  31. ^ Lindberg, Kristian (2009-05-24) "Danske anmeldere beskyldes for rygklapperi" (in Danish). Berlingske Tidende. Retrieved on 2009-05-28.
  32. ^ Monggaard, Christian (2009-12-21). "Hvad skulle vi gøre uden Paprika Steen og Lars von Trier?" (in Danish). Dagbladet Information. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  33. ^ Rehlin, Gunnar (2009-10-21). "'Antichrist' wins Nordic film prize". Variety. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
  34. ^ Vallentin, Joanna (2010-02-07). "'Antichrist' årets bedste film" (in Danish). Berlingske Tidende. http://www.berlingske.dk/film/antichrist-aarets-bedste-film. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  35. ^ "Antichrist". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1210830-antichrist/. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  36. ^ Tookey, Chris (2009-07-24) "Antichrist: The man who made this horrible, misogynistic film needs to see a shrink." Daily Mail. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  37. ^ http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/ReviewComplete.asp?FID=136285 Antichrist review in Empire
  38. ^ Davies, Luke,Tooth and Claw: Lars Von Trier's 'Antichrist'. The Monthly. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
  39. ^ Waters, John,Tooth Film: Best of 2009. Artforum. Retrieved 2009-12-06.
  40. ^ Meza, Ed (2009-12-12). "'White Ribbon' is a fav at European Film Awards". Variety. Retrieved 2009-12-13.
  41. ^ Vigild, Thomas (2009-06-17). "'Antichrist' fortsætter - som spil" (in Danish). Politiken. Retrieved 2009-12-14.

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