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Capone previews the Chicago International Film Festival: ANTICHRIST, THE MESSENGER, AN EDUCATION, RED CLIFF, and more!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here. Today marks the first full day of screenings for the Chicago International Film Festival. There are slightly fewer offerings this year, but in most cases, there are more showings of each film, which is always a good thing. Forgiving the open-night selection MOTHERHOOD, an abysmal self-important treatise on hipster parents starring Uma Thuman (more on the film from me when it opens in a few weeks), the rest of the festival is a promising mixture of accessible art house fare, a solid selection of foreign films that have been gathering acclaim on the festival circuit, and even a couple of films that feature Oscar-hopeful performances. Here's a quick rundown of some of the films playing in the first week of CIFF that you might want to consider checking out.
ANTICHRIST In what was the most divisive film at the Cannes Film Festival, and may end up being the most divisive of the year, period, Lars Von Trier's ANTICHRIST opens with what is the most beautiful prologue you will see in 2009. It ends with acts of sexual brutality (inflicted by a man and a woman against each other and themselves) that are difficult to describe even on the filterless internet. In between these unforgettable book ends is actually where the controversy occurs. There's a whole lot of psychobabble between a distraught wife (the wonderfully neurotic/psychotic Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her therapist husband (the remarkable Willem Dafoe). I found the on-the-go, free-flowing analysis fascinating; others have found it mind-numbingly inane and insufferable. And I don't think I'd pick a fight with people who feel that way. The cabin-in-the-foggy-woods setting and the bizarre, excessive mutilations in the film's final minutes gave the entire experience a fairy tale quality to it, and I think it's possible that ANTICHRIST actually hypnotized me. If less intriguing and talented actors were at the center of this movie, I don't think I would have liked it as much. But Dafoe and Gainsbourg maneuver through this murky plot like masters. If you have the stomach for the violence, the rest of ANTICHRIST will probably impress you. My first reaction after the film ended was that it was neither as bloody or shocking as I'd been led to believe. It was the emotional trauma of the entire work that stuck with me and not simply the shocking visuals. Give this one a try, if only to celebrate the fact that Von Trier is still making movies that people cannot stop talking about.
CROPSEY An excellent true-crime doc that actually managed to scare me one or two times while filmmakers Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman search the woods of Staten Island (the borough that time forgot) for clues to the mystery of a handful of mostly special needs children gone missing over the decades near an abandoned mental hospital. The film examines the elements that make up an urban myth about a child-kidnapping creepy old guy, and turn the myth into a reality that got him locked up for decades with absolutely no evidence beyond circumstantial and unreliable witnesses. The entire film is genuinely creepy and disturbing, especially the unsubstantiated belief that former mental patients still roam the woods and live in the underground catacombs beneath the hospital, or that a seemingly limitless number of Satanists live in Staten Island. (Actually, looking at all the track suits in play here, I could believe the latter.) The bottom line on CROPSEY is that it works as both a mystery that can never be solved and a profile of a community shaped by its own collective fears. And the cast of characters is so colorful and ridiculous that you couldn't cast actors to play them any better than they play themselves. This is a great little movie.
AN EDUCATION I walked into this fantastic little British production knowing next to nothing about who was in it or what it was about. So as each new layer of the story revealed itself, I was more and more impressed as time went one. From an original script by author Nick Hornby (HIGH FIDELITY; ABOUT A BOY), AN EDUCATION is a coming-of-age tale about a high school girl (played with youthful elegance by newcomer Carey Mulligan, who I believe is supposed to be 16 here) and an older suitor, played by Peter Sarsgaard. When Sarsgaard's character enters the schoolgirl's life, he takes her off her path (more specifically, her father's path for her) to Oxford and introduces her to a world of luxury, glamour and, yes, sex. But we realize early on that something is slightly hidden and off about Sarsgaard aside from the fact that he's pursuing an underage girl. He's got a secret concerning his job that she finds both disappointing and thrilling all at once. The film would be worth seeing if only for Mulligan's performance. AN EDUCATION is ground-zero in the world taking her seriously as an actress, and she's set the bar high for her acting career. I also liked Alfred Molina as her father, who starts the film as the typical overprotective dad, but whose weaknesses are quickly exposed and exploited by Sarsgaard as he somehow gets the girl's parents to approve of his intentions of their daughter. I may be making the film sound a bit on the sleazy side, but the truth is, the film operates on a largely sophisticated level. Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig (ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS) does a tremendous job with this character study, which not only examines our leads, but also takes the time to get to know and peer into the lives of the supporting cast, which includes Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Sally Hawkins, Lynn Barber and Dominic Cooper. The film is, at times, lighter than air and heavy beyond words. For such a small film, it takes you on one of the biggest life journeys I've seen in ages.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN Whenever you get a chance to see Catherine Deneuve in a new film, you simply go see it and don't ask question. At this year's Chicago Film Festival, she's in two film: HIDDEN DIARY and Andre Technine's THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, a rambling but still intriguing work about stunning young woman Jeanne (Emilie Dequenne), who seems against the idea of working steadily and has no trouble lying in small amounts, sometimes for no reason. Deneuve plays her understanding and perhaps overly indulgent mother. Jeanne gets involved with a rebellious young man, who is sent to prison for being involved in a drug trafficking ring. She responds to this heartbreak by inventing a wild fiction about being attacked by white supremacists on the train. After most of the nation including the French president decries what happened to Jeanne, portions of her story begin to get examined in detail and don't hold up. If that were all the story this film had to offer, I think I would have liked it even more. As it stands, more is piled on, some of it quite interesting, but also distracting as all hell. There's a Jewish lawyer (Michel Blanc) who Jeanne interviews with for a secretary job and later is involved in the investigation of her case. Turns out her mother knew and was in love with him many years earlier, which further complicates matter. Then there's the lawyer's grandson, who is preparing for his bar mitzvah. Most of these characters probably deserve their own films, but in THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, many of them get the short shrift. Still, I wouldn't pass up any opportunity to spend time with the mysterious and complicated Jeanne for any amount of time, so I'm certainly recommending the film.
THE MESSENGER So many of the films set in or made about the current wars in the Middle East have such broad and lofty goals, that they scare away audiences. What I appreciated about THE MESSENGER, from writer-director Oren Moverman) is that it has such simple and clear motives. It isn't trying to tell every soldier's story through the two in this movie; it simply wants us to get to know these two men, faults and all, and understand them. Ben Foster plays Will Montgomery, who has just returned stateside after being injured in a heroic effort in Iraq. He has been assigned the unenviable task of notifying the next of kin of dead soldiers. He is partnered with Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), who has done this job a while and knows all the rules. The two men simply do not click, to the point where Will handles himself at these homes quite badly. But as he learns the emotional and psychological means to handle his awesome responsibility, he begins to be able to cope with what he went through while on the front lines. THE MESSENGER is a tough film to watch at times, especially during the notification scenes. The film peppers a few familiar faces among the family members, including Steve Buscemi as the father of one dead soldier, and Samantha Morton as a now-single mother who Will latches onto, looks after (which goes against protocol), and eventually grows attached to. There are no easy answers in THE MESSENGER, and, in the end, this might be the most emotionally charged of all the Iraq War dramas; it's certainly the most satisfying. In his feature work, Foster tends to overplay his characters (see him in Pandorum, in theaters now, for proof), but he is beautifully dialed back for most of his time on screen and it shows a real maturing and understanding of the material on his part. It was bizarre seeing Harrelson in such an intense and focused role just days after whooping it up watching him play free and loose with the world around him in ZOMBIELAND. But the two work well together, and end up having the right kind of chemistry to sustain this working relationship and still draw the other out of their respective shells. THE MESSENGER is a gripping work that you won't soon forget, and, along with THE HURT LOCKER and IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, it may end up being a defining film about this war years down the road.
RED CLIFF Released in China as two lengthy movies but cut down to one two-and-a-half-hour effort, John Woo's masterful epic RED CLIFF will, in all likelihood, make you crave the longer, two-part film as you savor every splash of blood and every reflection off a blade. Despite his long and impressive history with action films, Woo hasn't made a true period film since the early to mid-'80s. Set in the early third center, the story focuses on Zhou Yu (the incomparable Tony Leung), his wife Ziao Qiao (the stunning Lin Chi-ling), and his mortal enemy Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), who holds a deep red flame for the wife. Woo unleashes a cast of thousands in this awe-inspiring work that does an incredible job showing us how strategy can outdo number on the battlefield in so many instances, and how finding your enemies' most vulnerable points can take the place of brute force. I was almost as engrossed in the scenes of planning the next move as I was watching the move itself. Woo spares us nothing in terms of the scope of RED CLIFF, but he never forgets that this is a story about people as well. Holding most of the pieces together is Tony Leung, who may be China's finest asset as an actor in such works as LUST, CAUTION, the INFERNAL AFFAIRS trilogy, HERO, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, HIGH RISK, and Woo's own BULLET IN THE HEAD and HARD BOILED. He's a handsome devil who makes the dangerous seem romantic and the romantic seem dangerous. Woo gives us an unflinching yet highly stylized mixture for his battle sequences; he spares nothing when it comes to how messy and bloody war can be. But he drinks it all in like some sort of savory concoction, and I loved this movie from the first frame. Now let me watch the entire two films before I slice someone's head open like a melon.
THE REVENANT I love the idea behind director Kerry Prior's THE REVENANT. It's a buddy comedy along the same ilk as PiINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but one of the buddies is a sort of rotting zombie-vampire creature, who can still joke, walk around, and commit crimes like a normal dude despite being undead. Soldier Bart Gregory (David Anders) dies in combat, but is somehow brought back from the dead with his not-so-likable personality intact. His girlfriend doesn't take long to slip into bed with his scuzball best friend, and before long, Bart and his buddy are taking full advantage of his dead state to commit crimes and occasionally quench Bart's need for blood. Here's the problem: the film isn't as funny or clever as it thinks, and while it doesn't spare the blood and gore, it doesn't really do much to further the zombie or vampire genres. I love the idea far more than I love the overlong, meandering results. Even as the film's action and violence levels get ramped up as the film goes on, I wasn't impressed, and I'm not that hard to impress when it comes to violence. The film simply felt like it was lost and out of control for huge chunks. It starts with a fantastic premise and doesn't capitalize on it, which is a shame because Anders seems to have the acting chops to pull off pretty much whatever is required of him. There's an enthusiasm and passion for this material by the filmmakers that is undeniable, but the results don't quite get where they need to be. I'll accept that I may be in the minority on Ain't It Cool when it comes to THE REVENANT, and somehow I'll live with that. I just didn't have much fun watching the movie, and there's no getting around that. More to come, folks.
-- Capone capone@aintitcoolmail.com Follow Me On Twitter



Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 9, 2009, 7:13 a.m. CST

    oops, I did it again!

    by The_Crimson_King

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 7:13 a.m. CST

    I just got fiiiiiiiiiiirst!

    by The_Crimson_King

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 7:41 a.m. CST

    "Pick of fight"?

    by ron2112

    Really? Pick of fight?

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 7:51 a.m. CST

    the praise of Red Cliff cannot be sung enough

    by just pillow talk

    Brilliant.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 7:52 a.m. CST

    Rampling?

    by We

    Do the research, please.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 8:01 a.m. CST

    Great to have WOO back

    by sherlock_junior

    WOO's the man?!

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 8:11 a.m. CST

    RE: Antichrist

    by c4andmore

    Does it really show Rampling cutting her clit off? Nasty....

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 8:13 a.m. CST

    red cliff is great

    by CharyouTree

    felt like Shogun Total War, the 2 parts can be easily found online if you wish capone, great reviews by the way. And great name The Crimson King

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 8:13 a.m. CST

    It's not Rampling...

    by DrunkyMcLush

    It's Gainsbourg

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 8:14 a.m. CST

    Charlotte Gainsbourg

    by c4andmore

    Gah, thanks We, I just copied from above, I was thinking Gainsbourg though.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 8:48 a.m. CST

    boy, another person with a Dark Tower reference name

    by The_Crimson_King

    first BangoSkank, now CharyouTree! we should start a club

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 9:05 a.m. CST

    You exhausted Capone...

    by Skyway Moaters

    ... when you wrote this and your most recent "art house roundup". Drunk maybe? Rampling? Come on man, you may not be the most careful writer, or the best editor, but you don't make the glaring errors found in these contributions. You Ok?

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 9:05 a.m. CST

    You exhausted Capone...

    by Skyway Moaters

    ... when you wrote this and your most recent "art house roundup". Drunk maybe? Rampling? Come on man, you may not be the most careful writer, or the best editor, but you don't make the glaring errors found in these contributions. You Ok?

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 9:10 a.m. CST

    The main thing I took away from ANTICHRIST...

    by Phloton

    ...was that Von Trier is a complete misogynist. There have been hints of this in some of his previous work, but this one went all out. I don't know what his mommy and daddy (or his church) did to him as a child. I still like Breaking The Waves the best, but it too has its woman issues.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 9:22 a.m. CST

    von trier..

    by emeraldboy

    has always been devisive. and he is a bully on set. bjork gave up acting after working on dancer in the dark. von trier claimed to have given up directing after a period after his mental breakdown. his parents abusive marriage and seperation had dramatic effect on him.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 9:25 a.m. CST

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2009/0718/1224250896

    by emeraldboy

    here is a profile on von trier.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 9:26 a.m. CST

    here is a profile on von trier..

    by emeraldboy

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2009/0718/1224250896099.html

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 9:47 a.m. CST

    I wish someone would post a profile on Trier.

    by c4andmore

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 9:58 a.m. CST

    by emeraldboy

    Dark lord of Dogme The Danish director’s stark, uncompromising style of filmmaking has divided audiences, and his latest film, with its graphic violence and genital mutilation, won’t quell accusations of cruelty and misogyny IN THE introduction to a 1997 documentary Tranceformer: A Portrait of Lars von Trier , Lars Von Trier smirks into the camera in the opening shot and announces, “I’ll gladly assert that everything said or written about me is a lie.” This is textbook Von Trier, contradictory and combative but also, according to a former filmschool friend, a “playful rascal”. There is no doubting Von Trier’s credentials as film-maker, but they are almost outstripped by his skills as a self-publicist. His latest film, Antichrist , is released next Friday and has been grabbing fat column inches since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival this year. There, critics were divided. Some laughed, some booed, many walked out and there were rumoured faintings. But Von Trier’s work has always had an uncompromising quality. His modus operandi is, to put it mildly, extreme in a career that has seen him both fêted as a genius and scoffed at for pretension and misogyny. As an individual, he is as hugely paradoxical as his work. A year before making Breaking the Waves , he outlined his Dogme 95 philosophy of film-making. This demanded that all filming should take place on location, using hand-held cameras, with no lighting, a basic budget and that it should be unsigned (ie have no credits). The film adheres to most of this, except that it is introduced as “A Film by Lars Von Trier”. Contradicting his own manifesto is one thing, but to open with an act of vanity seems quite at odds with Dogme, yet typical of Von Trier the artist. Born in 1956 to Communist parents with a penchant for nudism, Lars Trier grew up in a household that was emotionally repressed yet lacked behavioural boundaries. His parents were Jewish, but Von Trier now refers to them as atheists. After receiving a Super 8 camera as a present, he made his first film aged 11. At Danish Film School from 1979 to 1983, he picked up the nickname “Von Trier” and adopted it as a tribute to silent filmstar Erich von Stroheim and Austrian director Josef von Sternberg. His first major film post-graduation was The Element of Crime , about a detective trying to solve the murders of young girls. It was the first in his Europe trilogy, with the second, Epidemic , following in 1986. The latter film is rooted very much in his own experience as an extreme phobic. As well as being prone to agoraphobia, he has a fear of flying, underground structures, illness and hospitals. The latter two dominate Epidemic , a film within film about a doctor attempting to stamp out an epidemic. The trilogy ends with Europa (1991), set in post-second World War Germany. As a child, Von Trier’s favourite book was Gold Heart, a title he was to borrow for his trilogy that comprised Breaking the Waves, The Idiots and Dancer in the Dark . It tells the story of a young girl who lives in a forest. One day she leaves her wood cabin, gives away all of her belongings and ends up naked and alone. The picturebook has a happy ending (with a Prince, of course), but the last pages of the young Lars’s copy was missing, so his version was a desolate one which offered little hope. Von Trier has revealed that it partly inspired Breaking the Waves , but it’s a vision that is common in much of his work. IN 1995 , while working on his Dogme manifesto and preparing to shoot Breaking the Waves, his dying mother summoned him to her deathbed. There, she revealed that another man – her old boss who she considered to have “artistic genes” – was actually his father. Father and son had several fraught meetings, with Von Trier ending up ultimately rejected. The Freudian nightmares of his own life seem to have provided ample material for his films, but fatherhood is not examined in nearly as much detail as the mother’s role. Von Trier doesn’t shirk from excoriating women at every opportunity and he has been able to convince some very talented actresses to portray his damaged women with intuitive brilliance. In Dancer in the Dark , which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes, singer Björk plays a simpleton who is manipulated and cheated to the point where an audience almost can’t bear to watch. Emily Watson’s turn as a dutiful wife who prostitutes herself to fulfil her paralysed husband’s fantasies invoked the wrath of feminists. It won her an Academy Award nomination and Breaking the Waves picked up the Grand Prix at Cannes. His next major work was The Idiots ; in the interim period, Von Trier’s personal life had experienced much upheaval. He left his wife Cæcilia Holbek, who was pregnant with their second child, for their babysitter, who he subsequently married and has two further children with. The Idiots , about a group of people engaged in self-discovery by pretending to be mentally disabled, provoked a storm of controversy from various groups and catcalls of “Il est merde!” from BBC film critic Mark Kermode at a Cannes screening, which he was thrown out of. IN HIS NATIVE Denmark the director has been involved in several TV shows as a writer. Most notable among them is his supernatural hospital drama, Riget (“The Kingdom”), which ran for two series in the mid-1990s. Set in a modern, pristine hospital, it features phantom ambulances and was compared to cult TV classic Twin Peaks . It was later reworked for US TV with script input from Stephen King, but failed to win viewers. Another Von Trier anomaly is the fact that he has never set foot in America (due to his fear of flying), despite setting his ongoing USA: Land of Opportunities trilogy in the country that is home to Hollywood. Nicole Kidman starred in the first film, Dogville , playing yet another of the director’s troubled female characters. On set the pair had several clashes, but Kidman has previously said she would finish the trilogy. She was absent from 2005’s Manderlay and it’s not known if she will star in the final film Washington , pencilled in for a 2010 release. Von Trier demands a lot of his actors and Björk famously vowed that she would never act again after her experiences with him on Dancer in the Dark . Like his childhood book Gold Hear t, Von Trier’s latest film, the controversial Antichrist , also features a cabin and a naked female engaged in self-sacrifice. It introduces us to a couple whose toddler son dies in a fall from a window. Shattered by grief and guilt, they attempt to pick up the pieces by retreating to a forest cabin. The mother, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, is encouraged by therapist partner Willem Dafoe to ditch her medication and give herself over to his therapeutic care. What happens then is actually summed up by, er, a talking fox who stops briefly chewing his own flesh to tell us that “Chaos reigns”. The film offers real sex, violence, mental breakdown and the death of a child, culminating in the ultimate taboo shot of female genital mutilation. It is unstintingly grim and a film to be endured rather than enjoyed. No surprise then that Von Trier admits he wrote it while recovering from a severe bout of depression. His unflinching attitude to sexuality extends outside of the realm of narrative film – a subsidiary of his Zentropa production company was once responsible for making hardcore porn films. Called Puzzy Power, it was spearheaded by a group of women to produce erotic films for women. Despite the overlap of issues and motifs in his work, he can never be accused of making the same film twice, tackling various genres (another Dogme 95 no-no) including horror ( Antichrist ) and musical ( Dancer in the Dark ). He is enigmatic and perplexing as ever, and his work almost revels in its own divisiveness. If you momentarily park the graphic sex, violence and mutilation, Antichrist still has multiple flaws. None of this matters to Von Trier. At a Cannes press conference, the Dane was unrepentant about the film. “I am the best director in the world . . . and I don’t have to justify myself.” CV LARS VON TRIER Who is he? A Danish film director known for his controversial and uncompromising work. Why is he in the news? His film Antichris t – featuring real sex, female genital mutilation and violence – opens here next Friday. Most appealing characteristic: He’s provocative and true to his art. Least appealing characteristic: His questionable misogyny towards female characters. Most likely to say: “I’m the best director in the world, me.” Least likely to say: “I’ve always wanted to make a Hollywood-style romantic comedy.” This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times ADVERTISEMENT Latest15:16 Kearney appeal judgment published15:13 Cannavaro set to join up with the Azzurri15:12 Two remanded on prostitution charges15:11 Lowry storms into contention in Madrid15:10 Tiernan off Canadian comedy tour15:06 Man charged over Cork road death15:05 Irish childhood tooth decay high14:54 Industrial output down 14% in AugustPopular Stories Most ReadMost Emailed1 White slave-owner roots of Michelle Obama unearthed2 Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize3 'Anglo 10' each borrowed sums of up to EUR 56.5m4 Coalition talks should be finished by lunch - Hanafin5 Big pay gaps within public sector1'Anglo 10' each borrowed sums of up to EUR 56.5m2White slave-owner roots of Michelle Obama unearthed3The 10 new rules for first-time buyers4Birth rate highest in Europe5Sorry, Siptu, but ex-wealthy can't take any more painYour Vote « YesNo »ResultsDo you think media coverage of the expenses controversy that forced John O'Donoghue's resignation was distorted?Crossword Club » Today's Interactive Irish Times Crosaire and Simplex crosswords, plus 10 years of crossword archive.Mobile Services » News alerts and crossword solutions to your phone.ADVERTISEMENT FAI's ticket policy hits fans where it hurtsThat tickets are still available a matter of days before the world champions come to town is a serious indictment of FAI policy, writes NOEL O'REILLYSweden’s swashbucklersThe Pirate Party – the political movement related to the Pirate Bay website – has won seats in Europe and now has a branch in Ireland. 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  • Oct. 9, 2009, 10:09 a.m. CST

    here is a profile on von trier..

    by emeraldboy

    Dark lord of Dogme SINÉAD GLEESON PROFILE: LARS VON TRIER: The Danish director’s stark, uncompromising style of filmmaking has divided audiences, and his latest film, with its graphic violence and genital mutilation, won’t quell accusations of cruelty and misogyny IN THE introduction to a 1997 documentary Tranceformer: A Portrait of Lars von Trier , Lars Von Trier smirks into the camera in the opening shot and announces, “I’ll gladly assert that everything said or written about me is a lie.” This is textbook Von Trier, contradictory and combative but also, according to a former filmschool friend, a “playful rascal”. There is no doubting Von Trier’s credentials as film-maker, but they are almost outstripped by his skills as a self-publicist. His latest film, Antichrist , is released next Friday and has been grabbing fat column inches since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival this year. There, critics were divided. Some laughed, some booed, many walked out and there were rumoured faintings. But Von Trier’s work has always had an uncompromising quality. His modus operandi is, to put it mildly, extreme in a career that has seen him both fêted as a genius and scoffed at for pretension and misogyny. As an individual, he is as hugely paradoxical as his work. A year before making Breaking the Waves , he outlined his Dogme 95 philosophy of film-making. This demanded that all filming should take place on location, using hand-held cameras, with no lighting, a basic budget and that it should be unsigned (ie have no credits). The film adheres to most of this, except that it is introduced as “A Film by Lars Von Trier”. Contradicting his own manifesto is one thing, but to open with an act of vanity seems quite at odds with Dogme, yet typical of Von Trier the artist. Born in 1956 to Communist parents with a penchant for nudism, Lars Trier grew up in a household that was emotionally repressed yet lacked behavioural boundaries. His parents were Jewish, but Von Trier now refers to them as atheists. After receiving a Super 8 camera as a present, he made his first film aged 11. At Danish Film School from 1979 to 1983, he picked up the nickname “Von Trier” and adopted it as a tribute to silent filmstar Erich von Stroheim and Austrian director Josef von Sternberg. His first major film post-graduation was The Element of Crime , about a detective trying to solve the murders of young girls. It was the first in his Europe trilogy, with the second, Epidemic , following in 1986. The latter film is rooted very much in his own experience as an extreme phobic. As well as being prone to agoraphobia, he has a fear of flying, underground structures, illness and hospitals. The latter two dominate Epidemic , a film within film about a doctor attempting to stamp out an epidemic. The trilogy ends with Europa (1991), set in post-second World War Germany. As a child, Von Trier’s favourite book was Gold Heart, a title he was to borrow for his trilogy that comprised Breaking the Waves, The Idiots and Dancer in the Dark . It tells the story of a young girl who lives in a forest. One day she leaves her wood cabin, gives away all of her belongings and ends up naked and alone. The picturebook has a happy ending (with a Prince, of course), but the last pages of the young Lars’s copy was missing, so his version was a desolate one which offered little hope. Von Trier has revealed that it partly inspired Breaking the Waves , but it’s a vision that is common in much of his work. IN 1995 , while working on his Dogme manifesto and preparing to shoot Breaking the Waves, his dying mother summoned him to her deathbed. There, she revealed that another man – her old boss who she considered to have “artistic genes” – was actually his father. Father and son had several fraught meetings, with Von Trier ending up ultimately rejected. The Freudian nightmares of his own life seem to have provided ample material for his films, but fatherhood is not examined in nearly as much detail as the mother’s role. Von Trier doesn’t shirk from excoriating women at every opportunity and he has been able to convince some very talented actresses to portray his damaged women with intuitive brilliance. In Dancer in the Dark , which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes, singer Björk plays a simpleton who is manipulated and cheated to the point where an audience almost can’t bear to watch. Emily Watson’s turn as a dutiful wife who prostitutes herself to fulfil her paralysed husband’s fantasies invoked the wrath of feminists. It won her an Academy Award nomination and Breaking the Waves picked up the Grand Prix at Cannes. His next major work was The Idiots ; in the interim period, Von Trier’s personal life had experienced much upheaval. He left his wife Cæcilia Holbek, who was pregnant with their second child, for their babysitter, who he subsequently married and has two further children with. The Idiots , about a group of people engaged in self-discovery by pretending to be mentally disabled, provoked a storm of controversy from various groups and catcalls of “Il est merde!” from BBC film critic Mark Kermode at a Cannes screening, which he was thrown out of. IN HIS NATIVE Denmark the director has been involved in several TV shows as a writer. Most notable among them is his supernatural hospital drama, Riget (“The Kingdom”), which ran for two series in the mid-1990s. Set in a modern, pristine hospital, it features phantom ambulances and was compared to cult TV classic Twin Peaks . It was later reworked for US TV with script input from Stephen King, but failed to win viewers. Another Von Trier anomaly is the fact that he has never set foot in America (due to his fear of flying), despite setting his ongoing USA: Land of Opportunities trilogy in the country that is home to Hollywood. Nicole Kidman starred in the first film, Dogville , playing yet another of the director’s troubled female characters. On set the pair had several clashes, but Kidman has previously said she would finish the trilogy. She was absent from 2005’s Manderlay and it’s not known if she will star in the final film Washington , pencilled in for a 2010 release. Von Trier demands a lot of his actors and Björk famously vowed that she would never act again after her experiences with him on Dancer in the Dark . Like his childhood book Gold Hear t, Von Trier’s latest film, the controversial Antichrist , also features a cabin and a naked female engaged in self-sacrifice. It introduces us to a couple whose toddler son dies in a fall from a window. Shattered by grief and guilt, they attempt to pick up the pieces by retreating to a forest cabin. The mother, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, is encouraged by therapist partner Willem Dafoe to ditch her medication and give herself over to his therapeutic care. What happens then is actually summed up by, er, a talking fox who stops briefly chewing his own flesh to tell us that “Chaos reigns”. The film offers real sex, violence, mental breakdown and the death of a child, culminating in the ultimate taboo shot of female genital mutilation. It is unstintingly grim and a film to be endured rather than enjoyed. No surprise then that Von Trier admits he wrote it while recovering from a severe bout of depression. His unflinching attitude to sexuality extends outside of the realm of narrative film – a subsidiary of his Zentropa production company was once responsible for making hardcore porn films. Called Puzzy Power, it was spearheaded by a group of women to produce erotic films for women. Despite the overlap of issues and motifs in his work, he can never be accused of making the same film twice, tackling various genres (another Dogme 95 no-no) including horror ( Antichrist ) and musical ( Dancer in the Dark ). He is enigmatic and perplexing as ever, and his work almost revels in its own divisiveness. If you momentarily park the graphic sex, violence and mutilation, Antichrist still has multiple flaws. None of this matters to Von Trier. At a Cannes press conference, the Dane was unrepentant about the film. “I am the best director in the world . . . and I don’t have to justify myself.” CV LARS VON TRIER Who is he? A Danish film director known for his controversial and uncompromising work. Why is he in the news? His film Antichris t – featuring real sex, female genital mutilation and violence – opens here next Friday. Most appealing characteristic: He’s provocative and true to his art. Least appealing characteristic: His questionable misogyny towards female characters. Most likely to say: “I’m the best director in the world, me.” Least likely to say: “I’ve always wanted to make a Hollywood-style romantic comedy.” This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 10:23 a.m. CST

    So where can we see AntiChrist?

    by Harold-Sherbort

    What about Enter the Void? I need these movies.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 10:49 a.m. CST

    THE REVENANT

    by LastOfTheV8Interceptors

    Wait.. he's a vampire? That looks like a nasty walking corpse? I always thought he was a zombie based on other things that I've read. I may have to seek this out just to have personal proof that somebody in this day and age has done vampires right... or at least tried to.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 11:28 a.m. CST

    Saw Red Cliff parts 1 & 2 this week

    by laguna_loire

    They've been released as a special edition here in the UK. All I can say is DO see the two movies, don't settle for the truncated one!! Sheer magnificence, and a long long way from the risible Paycheck!!

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 12:03 p.m. CST

    Carey Mulligan...

    by 24200124

    ... oh, how I have loved her since she played Sally Sparrow in the 3rd Season "Doctor Who" episode "Blink". It's one of my all-time favorites, and she's the biggest reason why. Just... gorgeous.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 12:56 p.m. CST

    Remember when Chicago got Bowling for Columbine

    by Garbageman33

    With Michael Moore doing an epic Q&A afterwards? That seems like a long time ago. This year's lineup is crap. As was last year's. I'd love to see Mother. But that's about it. Would it kill them to get A Prophet, like every other film festival? I'm sure they're trying to carve out their own niche, but in doing so, Chicago ends up with films that no one else wanted.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 2:01 p.m. CST

    24200124

    by Fixthe Fernback

    Full marks, Carey is fantastic. Though she seems completely different in An Education as she is a brunette which doesn't really suit her in my eyes. <P> Gotta see Red Cliff, love Tony Leung, had Gong Li been cast I would have been in my element. Still, looks amazing!

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 4:47 p.m. CST

    Hey, Capone....an "original script"?

    by Destry

    Thought that Hornby's script for "An Education" was based on a memoir by Lynn Barber. Doesn't that make it an adaptation? (Just sayin'...)

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 5:20 p.m. CST

    spot on for Antichrist and An Education

    by hippolyta

    I agree that Antichrist was more hypnotic than graphic, but still very disturbing. I agree with Pholton that it's misogynistic. Some reviewers have said it's about female empowerment but how is a film about women being the children of Satan be pro-female? Anyway, Carey Mulligan was great in An Education as well as the rest of the cast, even Sally Hawkins in her 5 minute scene.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 8:01 p.m. CST

    AntiChrist: are we talking Salo-style violence?

    by Rhuragh

    Really, how bad is it?

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 8:49 p.m. CST

    I wish I never saw Antichrist...

    by T 1000 xp professional

    Rhuragh, I heard Salo was really bad. Let me tell you AntiChrist is really bad as far as violence goes. It also felt slightly contrived and pointless.... W/e, I wish i never saw it....Those type of comments might actually make one go see it. So go and watch it and hope throughout the movie you won't feel like I did.

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 8:51 p.m. CST

    There's no way possible that Von Trier ISN'T a misogynist.

    by T 1000 xp professional

  • Oct. 9, 2009, 10:32 p.m. CST

    Salo was one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen.

    by Rhuragh

    I understand, and even admire a little, the message Pasolini was communicating. He just chose to express it in a VERY graphic and debauched fashion. I can handle things like that in art as long as there's some purpose and meaning behind them.

  • Oct. 11, 2009, 9:58 p.m. CST

    von trier a misogynist

    by Bouncy X

    well living life as a midget, i'm sure that fucks you up.

  • Oct. 12, 2009, 1:27 a.m. CST

    see the movie for free...

    by Titus05

    just a heads up, HDNET Movies will be showing Red Cliff on November 18th...also Ong Bak 2 will be shown on October 21st...great free movies for those that have HDNET!