Sometimes all it takes for me to link a film for this column is an actor in an a film being obscurely released this weekend, who also happens to be in another obscure film that I'm certain you at least have heard of. Lars von Trier has been thrown under the bus on many occasions, in my opinion rather unfairly. The man's frequent embarrassment towards the public has not downsized my opinions of his work, and in fact enhances how sure I am of his vision. The man stated once that he was "the best director in the world". I can't say I can entirely disagree to his statement, especially considering the confidence he displays in pretty much all his films. You can't say the man doesn't know what he's doing, or that his finished products are fractured entities.
Indeed "Antichrist" is quite likely the easiest film of his to toss aside vehemently as angry and self-indulgent trash, but not a single part of me believes that for a second. I've seen the film now from both the perspective of total fear and seriousness towards his personal connection to the film, and from a point of pure horror genre panache. The guy has undeniable style, which ekes through even in the simplest of shots, and the film is one aggressive, disgustingly gorgeous visual after another, none without its own visceral weight to it. I must factor this as some kind of masterpiece, and in any case it makes for an ideal choice for this column. And I have to mention Anthony Dod Mantle, the cinematographer on the film who must inevitably seem overshadowed by von Trier. His presence is just as noticed, if not quite as acknowledge.
Problem was, it had been such a very long time since the last time I saw "Antichrist", and heading right back into it, I knew I couldn't simply pick out frames from the film. It was, in a way, my most difficult venture in this column, but I found that strong way into it was through three separate viewings. Once for the fun, once for dissection of individual shots, and once to narrow it down with the help of Lars' commentary. It gives me nothing but sadness that the man won't be doing any more interviews, because I would have absolutely loved to meet and talk with the man. Now the miracle of that happening lies on in being cast as part of one of his films. How 'bout it Lars? "Nymphomaniac"? I think I'm your guy!
10. Power of Anxiety
This is a shot that accompanies a sequence of shots that He goes on to explain as She's transition into anxiety, the physical stage of her grief. It's an arresting sequence when it comes in, though given a bit of explanation when it returns. It could go away from there on, but it does. Very late in the film, in the climactic showdown between man and wife, these visions crop up again as He is "taking control of her anxiety". Of those shots, the one of her hand trembling not only makes most thematic sense, but feels like she is willingly relinquishing power over herself to him now. She has been struggling the entire film. Now she is saying that she's letting go.
9. Closed Window's Glare
Coming on quite late in the film, quite a great deal has gone on already that you could dismiss this shot as mundane and unnecessary. I can't, since so much of the film builds towards things happening as predestined. That idea of destiny isn't ever explicitly stated, certainly not by He, since he constantly is straining for the logical explanation, even as things make less and less "sense". But this is the same window that he had closed previously after his hand was swollen with ticks. He has closed off that door to knowledge, and the jewels encrusted on the glass seem to be telling him, this is where to go to find your knowledge, but you already know the cost. He goes anyway.
8. Woods Collapse
Throughout the film there is a subtle, or at times not so subtle, distortion effect used in post to give things a shifting quality to them. Never to urban environments of course. This is an effect that has strictly to do with Eden and the woods. It's used on plenty occasions, even in flashbacks through She's "memories", showing that it's always had this quality. The moment that uses it most strongly, in my opinion, is the moment that we first see it. It somewhat evokes Stanley Kubrick's opening to "The Shining", with the car moving towards and being engulfed by the woods. But it's not just the car that the woods are engulfing. It's the woods that seem to be devouring themselves.
7. The Three Beggars
A shot that seems so simple, and in ways it is so simple, but not technically. "What's the phrase? Never work with children and animals." And of course Lars is compelled to repeatedly do just that. Symbolically it returns us to ideas planted previously on in the film, with these creatures of both life and death; half the beauty of nature, and half the evil of it. There's also the whole concept of destined circumstances, with the crow previously being "unhelpful", but to get He back to this point, and rewarding him with a tool to his salvation. They've been guiding him along, and now they're here leading him to his "conclusion". It's a magnificently climactic moment, made so by this indispensable shot. And yes, the animals must have been hell to train to that position.
6. Something Not Right
This is a shot that it broke my heart to even consider getting rid of. Sure, it's not one shot, but get off my back! It's a distinct moment in the film, and indeed a somewhat transitional sequence, but instead of just bringing us to the woods folding in on each other, we get this speeding shot as go through this tunnel of trees. Silhouetting between the fold of the leaves is light coming through, but it's not beautiful so much as it is ever more confronting. And there's something that truly isn't right about this shot, as we catch glimpses of something "wrong". It's that thing that comes onscreen for a second, and you don't know you saw it until you realize you did. It sinks in to you, as the sinister aspect of the woods does.
5. Soft Window
You could argue a way toward making a list devoted to the top ten shots from the prologue of the film. It's no less a work of dynamic craftsmanship, and it's a simultaneously beautiful and narratively cathartic moment. It reconciles you towards the film early on with a style that von Trier has described as "monumental", and I'd be willing to agree. One of the most technically difficult moments, and one that rings most significant to me, is when Nick sees his parents having sex, and then there's a rack focus to show him looking towards the window. Keep in mind that they did that fade in "extreme slow-motion", so it really happens in just a second. It's so on-the-dot in its directing of attention, an almost gleefully sinister sense of foreshadowing. What we don't question until later is how much intention went into Nick's "accident"?
It makes a great deal of sense that Lars would be disappointed in some decisions that he's made, at least that's what I, as a spectator, heard from his commentary. There's one moment where he says "stupid dissolve", when the trees fade to the back of She's head. I can't reciprocate, since I felt that fade was a nice assertion of themes, and not flashback. But he does speak of some unhappiness with not having as much of a documentary feel in the home sequences of the film. He'd clearly go on to get it more on the dot in "Melancholia", but I felt he nailed it somewhat in this shot of Dafoe restricting Gainsbourg's sexual desires. It's an embrace, but simulatenously a sort of prison. Obviously the bodies are what shapes the meaning, but the camera aids it sporadically enough to give it a bit of an extra bite.
3. The Myth Realized
At a point this was my number one, and I suppose you could call each of these picks number one. I want to make it clear, the film's cinematography throughout is absolutely brilliant. To pick ten was quite a task, and I apologize sincerely to Lars von Trier if you don't quite agree with my choices. I think yours are all spectacular. Going from the prologue to the epilogue seems to make sense, and though there are several shots in the epilogue of great significance, this sprung forth in the most mythical sense. Obviously what we will see of faceless women climbing up around him is just as striking and instantly confounding an ending as any, Dafoe rising in awe in this mythic man-on-the-mountain shot gives wonderful context and closure to his journey.
2. Those Left Behind
And then back to the beginning, and this shot is very much transitional, and quite simple too, I must be honest. Nick is dead, and we view through the vehicle carrying his coffin, towards the people following, and our parents grieving in their own ways. Sunlight smacks the drips of what on this second lens, illuminating us to his parent's strife. He is reacting in the massively expressive way of tears and lack of composure. She, meanwhile, holds it in, before eventually collapsing on the ground, but the car keeps going. It's leaving them behind, even though we aren't. Perhaps Nick isn't. Perhaps he just wants to see them flail now. I don't know. Maybe he was sadistic little kid. He's dead now. I'd say he's earned that right.
A bit of an iconic image of the film, and one that at first sight fell away somewhat mindlessly. I just didn't quite consider it until the commentary kicked in, and they started talking about the foxhole. Then I came to realizing that the fox hole was there when She was perusing her way back into the woods mentally. It's almost an eye, but it's more importantly a hole, much like the holes that define their sexuality. We see Dafoe climbing into this hole quite comically, as if he's scurrying into a vagina to escape the woman. But this hole was always meant for her to find, and this shot does quite an assertion that the woods are a domain that belongs to her, and that she almost blends into. Eventually she even does blend into the green.
So, what do you think of my picks, and what are yours? Comment below! And Lars, I was serious about "Nymphomaniac".
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