Life as it ain't

"I'm not really from outer space. I'm just mentally divergent."

Archive for the ‘von Trier, Lars’ Category

Melancholia

Posted by Ronak M Soni on March 24, 2012

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The movie takes place not in the real landscape of a country mansion so much as in the mental landscapes occupied by its two main characters.

The first part, ‘Justine,’ portrays Justine — the insane sister — in the rigid, scheduled environs of her sister’s life. Her marriage, out of which she flunks. We have a tendency to think of women like Justine, put off by social pleasantries and large gatherings of society, as damaged. Claire definitely thinks so; like her husband asks, is everybody in her family stark raving mad? Though ostensibly told from Justine’s point of view, the whole hour only aims to cement in us Claire’s worldview. It ends with Justine having broken off her marriage and quitting her job — in Claire’s terms, she has flunked.

The second part, ‘Claire,’ portrays Claire in the uncaring, bleak landscape of Justine’s life — complete with lying well-wishers and soothsaying obnoxious people. The climax of the movie is something we’ve known all along — Claire leaves Justine’s hand, flunks.

One way to take this is as a triumph for the Justine side, for it is a fight make no mistake; after all, human connection (holding hands and dying with dignity) is more important than fitting in with society. I wonder, however. Is it really that much less connected to have an understanding that the world is filled with humans and they need to be taken on their own terms? Claire’s reaction to Justine’s various eccentricities: she’s my sister. Justine’s reaction to Claire wanting some semblance of normalcy for her death: your plan is a piece of shit. The only real point made here is that while for one life makes her draw away into herself, for the other it is death (well, not only life and death: I could ascribe any number of dichotomies to the two situations, but I have particular affection for this one because I like to think of the Melancholia the doomsday planet as an agent of Justine’s psyche). It was probably taken as a matter of course that the first part could “cement in” Claire’s perception, but the second half “supported” Justine’s, because only the majority’s opinion is wrong.

But, the more you look, the more you find that both parts are “cementing in” their own sets of prejudices. And the bridge doesn’t come in the end as resolution but in the very beginning as introduction: its point is merely to call out the existence of the problem, and to point out that it is an insurmountable one. Life — as Justine so helpfully points out — is evil, but then so is death; and when you best hold the kid’s hand is nothing but a property, neither quality nor vice except when made one by the situation.

There is a certain feeble misanthropy to this movie which raises it above and beyond any normal work preaching such things. It cares not that you feel any particular feeling but only that you acknowledge. If you are crying when the planet hits, the movie has missed its mark: what you need to do is watch.

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Antichrist: Into (an) Eden

Posted by Ronak M Soni on March 26, 2010

Originally published at PassionforCinema.

Antichrist, 2009, 104 min

Written and Directed by Lars von Trier

Muriel Award-Winning Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle

Story (taken from IMDb): A grieving couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) retreats to their cabin in the woods, hoping to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse.

An unforgettable moment; look closely at those in the background.

I started watching Antichrist with no expectations whatsoever about quality; I’d read that it was a beautiful movie, I’d read that it was a piece of tasteless porn, and I’d also read that it was nothing worth our time. The only expectation I had was that it would be sickeningly violent. Antichrist’s success, for me, lies in the fact that it belied all of the aforementioned opinions.

I’m convinced that my age had something to do with this. Being only eighteen, there are some aspects of the human experience that are yet beyond me, and probably this movie taps into some deep fears in that part, making the movie horrific – not too much of a wonder, it’s almost sitcommy how much the woman distrusts the man – rather than just plain dreadful like it was for me; I was thinking don’t do it but there was nothing like look away. If you actually count the acts of violence, there is a sum total of three, and only one of them is as horrific as some critics would have us believe.

To do with sitcoms, I’m actually beginning to see a deeper parallel now. If you’ve ever watched a sitcom, you’ll know that they are almost misogynistic in their portrayal of urban women as neurotic little upstarts out to rule the sensible even if flawed men. You’ll find the parallel to have a true enough ring if you ever watch the movie.

In fact, in that way, it’s also the opposite of noir. A sort of reverse noir, if you will. Noir is about men who don’t understand, and therefore trust, the world around them, a distrust the cherry on top of which is that of women – specifically, that of the femme fatale. Antichrist, in contrast, is about the woman’s distrust of a man who more than adequately understands her, but whom she has no capacity to understand.

If noir is from the point of view of the men, Antichrist is – as much as this movie can be said to have a point of view – from the point of view of the woman. The whole movie, Willem Dafoe’s man is distant and clinical, a two-dimensional piece. Poor Dafoe has little to do, but rarely has little been done this well. Charlotte Gainsbourg, by contrast, got a role complex enough to win a completely deserved 2009 Muriel Award for her portrayal of the woman.

But all that’s sideline. The real point of this movie is the death of humanity, the death of humanity by distrust, of others too but primarily of oneself. I said that the woman doesn’t understand the man. The truth is that she, more importantly, doesn’t have the slightest clue about herself either, just like the men in noir. That’s why the movie progresses the way it does; it’s the chronicle of a woman who has completely lost trust in herself.

That’s why it’s called Antichrist; these two are to the Antichrist as Adam and Eve are to the Christ. Adam and Eve (symbolically) begun humanity; these two (symbolically) end it.

Adam and Eve have no history. These two are completely history; he’s American, she’s English, suggesting a history of metaphorical colonisation and breaking free.

But that’s still not the most profoundly disturbing thing about the movie. That would be the fact that it tries to disguise itself under the form of a horror movie. A train journey flashes images of cruelty, most of the music is the tail end of a gong, the house in Eden is continuously bombarded by acorns, ears of corn spontaneously grow on the man’s hand … the list could go on. But the fact is that all this eeriness is but a sheer veneer, a cover for the real melancholy only allowed to come to fruition in the prologue and epilogue.

If there’s a problem with the movie, it’s that it fails to attain beauty. The meaning feels tacked on; it differentiates itself from reverse noir in only the name, two shots and an epilogue. Which is a pity, because here we have a movie that spells out for us what’s going to come to pass during the climax and then completely blindsides us after. Good enough, but not perfect like it would be if the blindside grew out of the movie.

No one seems to quite agree with me: Roger Ebert, James Berardinelli, S M Rana.

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