Saturday, September 12, 2009

Days One and Two: I Am the Dogtooth Love Face Antichrist

It's the end of day two, so that means it's time to start tossing out some reviews. You're welcome.

Antichrist (Lars Von Trier) - What better way to kick off TIFF 2009 than with a deeply disturbing Lars Von Trier film! To be honest, I still have no idea what to write about this thing. Is it misogynistic? A provocative prank? A serious descent into one warped man's mind? A metaphor for male/female relationships? A quasi-religious fable? Would you believe all of the above?

The story is simple: He (Willem Defoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are a couple (unnamed for maximum allegorical purposes), who have just lost their one and only child in an accident (thanks to an open window and a passionate and photogenic sex session). A month has passed and She is getting no better, so He (a therapist) decides to treat her himself by taking her back to the cabin they have out in the woods. She deteriorates and things get very nasty, very fast.

I have particularly mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I love the stylization--the way Von Trier manipulates the image in the woods, the use of extreme slow-motion, the chapter breaks that get more and more intense as the film continues. Von Trier might be a seriously depressed man, but he's still got a handle on how to shoot a film.

But despite all the operatic highs and lows, I still found myself at a remove from the film. Most importantly, it just didn't disturb me. Don't get me wrong--it's not as though I went into the film wanting to leave it a broken wreck, trembling, destroyed by what I'd seen. I'm not stupid or masochistic. But the hype made me believe this would really get under my skin and give me troubled thoughts and it just hasn't. It's as though all the "chaos reigns" stuff in the final section, vivid though it is, separates me somewhat from the very real, very horrifying stuff that's happening between the husband and wife.

I don't want to go to a cabin in the woods with my wife anytime soon, though, so I guess that's something. Though I imagine Von Trier wanted a more serious reaction than a dip in cabin rentals.

Day Two:

Face (Tsai Ming-Liang) - Tsai returns with yet another baffling oddity, this time set in and around the Louvre. Though not as provocative or deeply felt as 2005's The Wayward Cloud, this is still a singular experience, if you're willing to take the ride. Since Tsai's films tend to blossom in the mind long after the initial experience, I'm sure I'll have more to say later on.

I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino) - A pleasant surprise: a modern, Douglas Sirk-style melodrama that works. The story is almost obscenely simple--long-suffering wife and mother (Tilda Swinton) finds love in the arms of a young artiste--but Guadagnino directs the hell out of it, by tying the film's rhythms to the mood and desires of its protagonist. As she begins to slowly embrace passion and desire, the film does too, ratcheting up the operatic score, shooting with hand-held cameras, etc. It works because Guadagnino uses these things sparingly at first, deploying them in small, controlled bursts, before finally embracing the melodrama in the delirious final reel. I'll try to expand on my thoughts about it after the festival.

Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos) - A fantastic film. Lanthimos takes his one simple concept (the lengths two parents will go to control their children) and latches onto it with a commitment that has to be seen to be believed. More disturbing (for me) than Antichrist, but with a blackly hilarious edge that keeps the film from becoming too grim. A must-see. (And yes, I'm playing coy with the story. I agree with the critics who say you should see this one coldly for maximum effect.)

Back later with Independencia, The White Ribbon and Enter the Void.

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