(director/writer: Lars von Trier; cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle; editor: Anders Refn; music: Handel; cast: Willem Dafoe (He), Charlotte Gainsbourg (She), Storm Acheche Sahlstrom (Nic); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Meta Louise Foldager; IFC Films; 2009-Denmark/Germany/France/Sweden/Italy/Poland-in English)
“A grim film that wants you to feel the pain its characters do.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A grim film that wants you to feel the pain its characters do, but I could only feel their depression. It’s written and directed by the always controversial Lars von Trier (“The Idiots”/”The Five Obstructions”/”Dogville”), that’s dedicated to the late great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. It’s filled with shock-scenes (like clit clipping) and enough metaphysical nonsense to make one want to exit the screening screaming for relief. But it’s the painful images (looking like works of art hanging in museums) that sometimes have a haunting lifelike affect, that left me thinking that the film might not be as pretentious as it appears to be at first glance.
There’s four chapters with the titles Grief, Pain, Despair and The Three Beggars; there’s also a prologue, in black-and-white, and an epilogue.
In the prologue, a couple is making love and their toddler crawls out of his sleeping bed, and while on the window ledge accidentally falls to his death while a gentle snow falls.
The grieving couple escape the city to live in an isolated cabin in the woods, in the Pacific Northwest (in a place they call Eden), in an attempt to work through their guilt and psychological trauma. The smug man (Willem Dafoe), a psycho-therapist, despite all his well-intentioned rational efforts to ease his academic occult researcher wife’s growing despair through both therapy and love, nevertheless fails to reach her and things turn violent. Which probably tells us that von Trier doesn’t think too much of either of his unsympathetic characters: the pushy therapist who is mind-fucking his patient in the pretense he’s an objective man of science (no pill pusher) and the emotionally scarred woman who is hell-bent on destroying the marriage and the dominant top-positioned man in their missionary-styled sex activities and lets her role-playing identification with nature run wild.
The ambitious psychological film, featuring two brave performances by exceptional actors (who at one point must listen to a fox who speaks, something one can only roll their eyes at with astonishment), never quite completely attracts or repels, but plays out as a personal film that wants to say big things about the controlling relationships between men and women, how nature is Satan’s church (whatever that means!) and of how the viewer reacts to watching something as unsettling as this nightmarish return to the Garden of Eden. The Eden setting turns grotesquely into a unique horror film, as the couple act out the primal struggle that has been in the works since the biblical Adam and Eve.
I wish I could have seen more in it to tickle my imagination, because I think the provocative filmmaker (someone I have mixed feelings about) is onto something, but that something took me on a maudlin slog through the mud and I’m not sure if it was worth it. Though in fairness the polarizing film deserves more than one viewing, as it’s a mood film and I think one’s reactions depend on one’s mood at the time and how the auteur’s outrageous sarcasm gets under one’s skin at the time.
REVIEWED ON 6/4/2010 GRADE: B-