Posts Tagged ‘Denmark


Valhalla Rising (2009)

I’m not sure how to describe this movie to people in terms of genre. I’ve read that it is “Viking historical action” or an “ambient black metal pagan pastoral” or an “atmospheric fantasy ride through Hell” (I think I made one of those up). It is the new film by Nicholas Winding Refn (of Pusher and Bronson fame).
It is a film with very little dialogue and absolutely none spoken by the main character by the name of One Eye (because he only has one eye), played by the stoic, impenetrable Mads Mikkelsen (channeling a cross between Toshiro Mifune and I don’t know what). As with his two films mentioned above, Refn definitely has a preoccupation with male characters whose actions explode with deep reserves of aggression split between times of almost zen-like quietness.

There’s not much narrative here, so I’ll leave that to others. It is mainly noteworthy for its striking visuals, brief beats of extremely intense violence, and its not-so transparent commentary on religion. The film is very abstract in its intentions, which will leave a lot of people unsatisfied. You definitely have to be ‘in the right mood’ to enjoy this. I found myself looking at the clock a few times (prompted by the division of the film into six onscreen chapter titles), but there are whole stretches of the film that are oddly compelling, yet devoid of any specific reason why.

Filmed entirely in the ethereal foggy highlands and colorful woods of Scotland, with sporadic dialogue entirely in English, the film seems to depict a type of religious parable, yet it is ultimately unintelligible without the viewer filling both the emotional and cognitive links (though I think it is obvious where Hell is supposed to be, at least, geographically). I saw/heard some links to other filmmakers here: Kubrick’s The Shining, Malick’s The New World, Von Trier’s Medea. Yet, none of these are really all that appropriate in describing the film as a whole. It is a fantasy epic that is less than 90 minutes with very little epicness about it. However, it is a clear calling card that Nicholas Winding Refn is definitely coming up in the world of cinema. I eagerly await his next project, whatever it may be.


Antichrist (2009)

antichristOk. I finally saw this. Lars Von Trier is totally fucking with me. I can’t decide if this is my favorite movie of the year so far, or if I completely hated it. I should probably note that Von Trier is a filmmaker that I would probably list among my contemporary favorites, though I would have a hard time being able to articulate a decent reason why. I like that he is both revered and reviled in extreme fashions; that many think he is either a master filmmaker worthy of the greatest careers in his comparatively young one, or he is a completely disingenuous hack mocking cinema with his command of emotional fakery.
Von Trier always has an interesting way of telling his stories. And most of his stories, to the offense of many a critic, are borderline misogynistic or at least actress-bashing in the depths to which he “directs” his female protagonists into emotional turmoil (apparently both on and off-stage; re: Bjork, Nicole Kidman, etc.).
I normally try to write these little reponses before having had any kind of outside critical influence, but the piece in Film Comment by Larry Gross is just too ‘right-on’ in my opinion (like in his insistence that this film helps to illustrate that Von Trier is not ‘against-woman’ in his depictions of his female characters, but rather more in sympathy with them in his outside status as a man who cannot really ever understand what he’s trying to get at from an outside perspective); I would guess that the progression of audience identification for the two characters in this film specifically (“He” and “She”; Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) is interestingly genderized and crying out for some academic treatment involving the cinematic ‘gaze’.
Antichrist, as the critic says, is a transitional film for Von Trier, who is, objectively, one of the most well-known, obviously auteur-driven filmmakers in the world.
Here his obsession seems to be melding genre horror movie cliche into some sort of larger mythology of psychosis/man’s natural state of being. It’s a great idea that has been tried numerous times before (making the horror movie capital-s Serious), but perhaps not quite ever in the way Von Trier seems to have in mind.
Von Trier is, no doubt because of his self-confessed clinical depression while making this film, also having serious doubts about psychology as a science.
This was supposed to be a film made as a break before finishing his so-called “America” trilogy of Dogville, Manderlay, and the forthcoming Wasington. Though the Washington-state setting of this film (which is shared also with Dancer in the Dark) begs whether he intends to finish it.
This is a man, after all, who has said that he has no intention of ever setting foot in the United States. Ever.


To go too far into the “plot” of the film would only ruin the generic suspense and horror aspect of the film. I hesitate to sound pretentious when I state that the ‘horror’ in this film is much more grounded in realistic emotion than the usual cinematic exercise, because most people will see this film’s emotional core as both ridiculously artificial and extremely confusing.

While this is by no means a perfect film, it is, as a post-genre exercise (if I can coin an academic term that has surely been used elsewhere unbeknowst to me), more than satisfying on a interpretative level. Gainsbourg puts in a performance worthy of the accolades she received at Cannes (the same film festival that awarded Best Actress to Isabella Adjani for her work in Zulawski’s Possession, a slightly more crazed, but surely knowledgable antecedent to this film). Dafoe is similarly absorbing in his rather underlyingly cliched ‘male-in-denial of his lack of control’ in his attempts to control what happens around him (It also doesn’t hurt that his having played Jesus, like all other actors who have, defines him in that part for the rest of his roles afterwards). These are simply two actors who raise the film up beyond any intended over-artificiality (which can be seen elsewhere in the direction of actors in Von Trier’s work by comparing the difference in quality between, say, the ultimately exploitative Manderlay and the nearly trancedent Dogville; or the awkward darkness of Dancer in the Dark and the build-up to a truly transcendent ending, comprobale to the best of Dreyer, in Breaking the Waves).

This is the kind of film I would show to a group of people to gauge their individual threshold for cinematic innovation (and to test my own limits of comfort of viewing in a room of people that are not neccessarily complete strangers). Some people don’t like to be prodded into unexplored territory; some are perfectly happy with a steady diet of rom-coms, cartoons, or conventional post-Saw horror franchises. Even though this has a talking animal and a scene of what could literally be described as torture-porn, this is not one of those kinds of films. I look forward to watching it again, whenever I can work up to mood to do so. Maybe then I can delve into giving it a worthy interpretive spin.


featured Short film (9 min)

Blue Shining (Richard Vezina, 2015)

great scene from a great film

Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)

June 2023