Lars von Trier's Antichrist, probably the most divisive, controversial and violently provocative film of the year, is neither a complete triumph or a "art-film fart", as Variety's Todd McCarthy so bluntly put it this summer.
It's true that this is very abstract and avant-garde piece of filmmaking, something that, through its own incessant depictions of on-screen violence and morbid sexuality makes it all the more difficult to swallow or even care about.
Although I do think the film exudes a false sense of superiority in certain scenes as well as a false sense of what is appropriate on camera, I do think that, in the end, it's a succesful work because it's prying, inquisitive and curiously fascinating. You don't watch it, get up, brush yourself off and go about the rest of your day, and that's the film's greatest quality. (Although a final screen credit to the Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky was met with sneers at the Cannes premiere, probably deserved, Antichrist carries the same fundamental numbing effect upon its conclusion, as well as the same lingering, indelible imagery).
I'm not sure exactly what kind of work Antichrist is, or what von Trier is completely trying to say, but it's not entirely unjustified to label the work misogynist. I think Roger Ebert hit the nail on the head calling the film, at its most basic level, a mirror-world to that of Genesis and the story of the Garden of Eden, the creation of Adam and Eve. (The cabin that the couple, played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourgh, inhabit in the woods is appropriately named "Eden").
It is only logical to assume that this an alternative, satanical re-telling of the classic story through the film's overly implicit title, are two characters are nameless generalizations of their gender/sex and von Trier's implication is clear is one sense, yet almost too obvious to be absolute. There is also a twisted backstory involving Gainsbourgh and her now-deceased son, which is depicted in the opening black-and-white prologue shot in super slow-motion, plus a more elaborate, fictionalized religious fable that eventually manifests itself in our story with an appropriately demonized twist.
This is also easily the most seductively-lensed film of the year, Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography, even when depicting scenes of extreme visual discomfort, are stunningly appealing, especially during Gainsbourgh's hypnotic walk through the woods, which luminate like a bowl of milk. I won't even get into the performances of both Dafoe and Gainsbourgh, but both are awards-worthy if films like this were ever treated with the kind of respect that they deserve.
I don't expect films like Antichrist to be uniformly renowned, and there are times when its grotesquely repulsive or brain-numbingly abstract, but it is an undeniably audacious and provocative work -- not just in its shock-jock images, but in its implications and its craft.