Lars von Trier shook up the film world when he premiered Antichrist at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. In this graphic psychodrama, a grief-stricken man and woman—a searing Willem Dafoe and Cannes best actress winner Charlotte Gainsbourg—retreat to their cabin deep in the woods after the accidental death of their infant son, only to find terror and violence at the hands of nature and, ultimately, each other. But this most confrontational work yet from one of contemporary cinema’s most controversial artists is no mere provocation. It is a visually sublime, emotionally ravaging journey to the darkest corners of the possessed human mind; a disturbing battle of the sexes that pits rational psychology against age-old superstition; and a profoundly effective horror film.
Lars von Trier’s 2009 film, Antichrist, makes its debut on home video in the U.S. through Criterion, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz. The film was originally shown at 25fps and other Blu-ray releases from other regions presented the film in 1080i/50hz. The Criterion edition is the only version I know of to present the film at 24fps. I didn’t notice any issues with this conversion.
The film was shot with the Red Digital Camera and it appears this transfer was taken directly from the digital source. Because of this the image looks very good. It remains fairly sharp throughout, though has its soft moments where definition is lacking around the edges, but I feel it was a look von Trier intended. The colour scheme is dark but the colours do still manage to have a certain pop, and black levels are deep and rich. The opening and closing black and white sequences are the best looking sequences in the film, presenting possibly the sharpest images with distinct gray levels.
In the end it’s what I pretty much expected. Again it can look a little soft, but the image otherwise looks incredibly clean and does have a certain pop allowing Lars’ incredible visuals look absolutely stunning here.
This Criterion Blu-ray boasts a rather exceptional 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, perfectly serving up the film’s eerie atmosphere. Dialogue sticks to the front channels and comes off clear and articulate. The film’s sound effects fill out the entire environment with some incredibly subtle sounds moving their way naturally around the viewer between all five speakers. There’s some great use of bass, which gets heavy during a few moments, maybe a little too heavy. The film’s sound design is surprisingly complicated, and very subtle (for the most part at least—there’s a few great jumps thanks to the use of a sound effect that von Trier refers to as the “Polish Sound” in the commentary track) and Criterion’s transfer presents it about as perfectly as I could imagine.
Like other releases for Lars von Trier films I was disappointed that as a whole the supplements are more technical in nature and not all that analytical, with most of the supplements have been ported over from other releases, using supplements produced by Zentropa Films. Thankfully the supplements are all quite engaging, and still feel better than most other similar features found on big studio releases.
The audio commentary, in English, features director Lars von Trier and film scholar Murray Smith. As I mentioned this is more technical in nature, von Trier having very little interest in offering any explanations as to the choices he made. Though Smith will offer a few thoughts on the film and his ideas on what some of the imagery means (von Trier not verifying or denying any of these ideas) it’s very technical, with von Trier talking about how he shot certain scenes, pointing out the use of CGI, advantages of the Red Camera and even talks about his influences for the film, which was a little of Kubrick mixed with a lot of Tarkovsky, Solaris primarily. Von Trier does talk a little about the characters and his thoughts on them (with the director relating more to “She” rather than “He”) and he also offers some criticisms about the film, pointing out what he might change. Again I would have liked more analysis of the film, and maybe some explanations for some of the things that appear in the film, but I still rather liked it, primarily because it’s fairly loose, and, surprisingly, fairly funny.
Criterion divides the remaining supplements into four sections. Under “Cast and Director Interviews” we first find a 5-minute piece called Confessions About Anxiety, featuring director Lars von Trier, effects supervisor Peter Hjorth, photographer Anthony Dod Mantle. In it we learn about the beginnings of the project and the director’s depression that led to it, covered also in the commentary track.
Following that brief piece we get the longest feature on the disc (not counting the commentary of course) in Charlotte Etc., a 44-minute interview with actor Charlotte Gainsbourg. In French (with clips from the film also in French) Gainsbourg talks in great length about the production and working with both von Trier and actor Willem Dafoe. She offers her own interpretations of the character she played but doesn’t have all of the answers about the film, admitting that the director didn’t like offering explanations to anything. She addresses the nudity and some of the more extreme moments of the film, and even talks about the unorthodox shoot, which was very professional with huge crews during the slow moments sequences and then very small and almost chaotic with handheld equipment during the “real” scenes. It covers a lot of material, though I felt some of it was skimped over too quickly. And despite it being rather good, in the end I have to say the feature is almost ruined by its bizarre style: In an effort to maybe lift if above most talking-head features there’s a heavy use of split screens, which make it incredibly distracting.
Willem Dafoe: Agent of Fantasy is the only exclusive Criterion supplement found on here, produced for this edition, featuring an 18-minute interview with Dafoe. He talks a bit about Manderlay, the previous film he worked with Lars von Trier on then moving on to how he got the role in Antichrist, which was pretty much by chance. He admits he didn’t/doesn’t completely understand every facet of the film but wasn’t concerned about asking questions, and also wasn’t concerned about the film’s violence, though he admits the original screenplay was actually worse. An excellent interview with a very intriguing actor.
The next section is devoted to the making of Antichrist and has been divided into 6 sections running a total of about 64-minutes. Unfortunately you cannot watch everything straight through, having to select each segment as you go.
The first segment runs over 6-minutes, entitled Behind the Test Film. Before production began von Trier and his crew created a short test film to see if it was possible to pull off some of the shots that were envisioned with the Red Camera. Mixed with some behind-the-scenes bits we see the test film, shot with different actors, which includes a demo of the “falling acorn” scene, one of the more striking moments in Antichrist (it’s the moment in the finished film where Dafoe stands in front of the cabin with the acorns slowly falling around him.) Quite a fascinating inclusion, especially when we first see how the scene was shot, which doesn’t look all that special, and then get to see the finished product, which is really quite mesmerizing.
Visual Style is the longest segment, running over 15-minutes. In this von Trier and crew explain the many visual styles in the film and how they were achieved, with heavy concentration on the slow-motion sequences found throughout, all of which were shot at 1000fps. A lot of these were done in studio primarily because the intense lighting was too much for generators. The test film is mentioned again, but then we get to see CGI breakdowns for a number of shots in the film, including the actual “falling acorn” scene, along with the fox sequence. One of the more fascinating segments on the disc.
Sound and Music presents a 13-minute interview with sound designer Kristian Eidnes Andersen. He explains how some of the sound effects were created, and I was surprised by some of the bizarre methods he used to get the sounds, which included him actually swallowing a microphone so he could record what was going on inside his own body. He gives some demonstrations on his system how he could turn some of the simple sounds, like wind blowing through grass, into some of the more unsettling sound effects I’ve come across in recent memory. We then get some footage of the Aria, which opens and closes the film, being recorded.
Eden—Production Design is a quick 5-minute piece about finding the location and the cabin that appears in the film. It’s actually rather surprising how hard it was to find this location, with von Trier needing a cabin near an oak tree (eventually the oak tree was manufactured,) and there’s an amusing incident involving a stork that caused the crew to have to move (von Trier refers to it as a “stupid stork!”)
Another fascinating feature is the 8-minute Make-up Effects and Props, which looks at the film’s non-CGI effects work. Despite the heavy use of CGI in the film there’s still a lot of use of older effects techniques, starting with the silicon leg and fake grind stone. We get a closer look at the “deer fetus” which, unsurprisingly, freaked out the deer it was harnessed to in the film. One of the more unnerving props, though, is the boy doll used in the opening. But of course the most interesting effect involves the film’s most infamous moment (which I won’t spoil here.) The effects team was under the impression that von Trier wouldn’t show the actual “act” on film and was surprised that he would end up wanting a close-up of the actual even. Humourously the effects team admit they’re probably the only people that watch the scene closely, if only to make sure there are no noticeable mistakes.
The Three Beggars is an 8-minute portion that concentrates on the animals that appear in the film, and working with them. Finally, after this, is another 8-minute segment called The Evil of Woman, which looks at all the research material pulled that appears in the film revolving around She’s thesis. A good piece, it also has von Trier actually confirm that the film is not to be taken as misogynistic, and though he does address this elsewhere, including in the commentary where he relates more to the female character and can’t stand Dafoe’s character, it’s about the only time the director actually attempts to explain something about the film.
The third section revolves around the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where Antichrist made its premiere. Chaos Reigns at the Cannes Film Festival is a 7-minute “diary” chronicling the day of the film’s premiere, including all the locations von Trier and his cast visited throughout the day, conducting interviews and doing photo ops. We also get some footage of the press conference, where von Trier is asked to “justify” this film. His response is, despite obviously being rather peeved by it, amusing. It does have some footage from the actual screening though unfortunately no reaction shots, which I admit I would have probably gotten a kick out of.
We then get two interview segments with Dafoe and Gainsbourg from the film festival. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s interview runs about 6-minutes and the actor talks a little about the harder aspects of the film, which were the more emotional scenes. Willem Dafoe’s interview runs about 8-minutes, with Willem talking again about how he got involved with the film, and what he found most difficult about the film. He also defends von Trier’s answer to the question about “justifying” the film at the press conference we saw in the first segment of Cannes section. Both interviews are great, fairly insightful interviews.
The disc then concludes with three theatrical trailers, two looking to be the Danish ones, and the third being the IFC trailer.
The release also includes a booklet with a rather lengthy and incredibly insightful essay on the film by film scholar Ian Christie.
Again I was a little disappointed the supplements concentrated more on the technical aspects of the film I must admit they were all still rather fascinating and each one is still worth going through.
I don’t know if the film is one many will find themselves wanting to rewatch often, though I will say the film certainly benefits from multiple viewings. As to the presentation Criterion has done a rather superb job. The film looks and sounds great and the supplements, though not what I probably hoped for, are all still quite fascinating and worth viewing. A rather solid edition.