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      Antichrist Review

      Antichrist poster


      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" has among its cast of characters a deer, seen briefly picking at its own dangling innards, foreshadowing some rough human behavior to come. Also there is a fox who speaks at one point. "Chaos reigns," it says to the character played by Willem Dafoe.

      I'm inclined to agree with a colleague who told me he could swing with "Antichrist" when it was simply unstable but couldn't go with it when it turned insane. It's a useful distinction. And yet the first hour of von Trier's willful provocation - dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky and freely sampling the rapturous imagery of Tarkovsky's 1976 World War II reverie "The Mirror" - is pretty stunning. It dissects a psyche unraveling and a marriage, shrouded by tragic loss, being torn apart.

      I suppose from one angle "Antichrist" is the most sadistic battle-of-the-sexes comedy ever made. The later, grindhouse-horror sequences include the use of stunt genitalia of both varieties. In the scene destined to mark this "unreasonable" (von Trier's own description) experiment forever, the character played by Charlotte Gainsbourg performs an act of self-mutilation far beyond the usual weightless "Hostel" and "Saw" routine, precisely because the violence is self-directed. The more literal and preposterously vicious the on-screen violence, the less powerful, paradoxically, "Antichrist" becomes. Yet Gainsbourg is remarkable in the role of a woman whose young son dies in a horrible accident and who, we learn, has picked the wrong subject for her thesis. Dafoe plays her husband and therapist, as bad an idea as that sounds.

      They retreat to their cabin in the woods, and there "Antichrist" turns into a Bosch painting, with suggestions of Munch's "The Scream." (The cinematography, disturbingly gorgeous in its color and black-and-white sequences, is by Anthony Dod Mantle.) The summer before, the woman and her son repaired to the same cabin so she could finish her thesis on witchcraft and violence against women through the ages. "Nature is Satan's church," says She. And service is about to begin.

      Unlike "Dogville" or "Manderlay," von Trier's consciously theatrical studies in despair, "Antichrist" may be objectionable in a hundred different ways, but it is undeniable and cinematic in a hundred others. Its mixture of tones and genres risks complete disruption every second. (Von Trier's atypical comedy, "The Boss of It All," was a wonderfully steely variation on "The Office.") Certainly, the writer-director-fantasist takes the easy way out as he molds the Gainsbourg character into a harpy bent on destroying her oppressor. Certainly it's barking mad. "You have to have the courage to stay in the situation that frightens you," Dafoe's He says one point. Von Trier did exactly that, and he got some amazing work out of two exceptionally brave actors. And the film will, in its way, endure.

      No MPAA rating (adults only).

      Running time: 1:49.

      Cast: Willem Dafoe (He); Charlotte Gainsbourg (She).

      Credits: Written and directed by Lars von Trier; produced by Meta Louise Foldager. An IFC Films release; in theaters and available via video-on-demand.

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