What should we make of a film has been accused by many critics of being childish, misogynistic, pornographic and some even going so far as to say it should be banned? It is a shocking film even for someone like me who has been desensitised by a lifetime watching horror films. It features grim sexual violence, and is deliberately provocative. I'm sure Trier will relish the heated criticisms from every reviewer that takes the bait.
The story is of a married couple, whose very young child climbs out of a window to his death, while they are passionately making love in the next room. The two are gravely upset by their loss, and the film focuses on how the trauma affects them. They take on very stereotypical male/female roles after the incident, the wife becoming hysterical, chaotic and lustfull, while the husband is supportive yet distant and intellectual, and becomes her therapist. The story takes them to a cabin in a forest, where events take a more disturbing turn.
Lars Von Trier has been repeatedly (and deservedly) accused of being a misogynist in his portrayal of women in his films. In Dogville, the character played by Nicole Kidman is gravely mistreated and raped. In Breaking the Waves, the devoutly religious protagonist played by Emily Watson is told by her impotent and disabled husband to have sex with lots of men, and tell him about it, a tale which ending in her brutal gang rape and death. This film is much worse than either of them.
The film is pretentious, in a typical Trier style. He is obviously out to show how clever he is, but he does deliver a very good film. The film is shot well, in a very artistic way which is very enjoyable. It differentiates itself from the usual brutal horror film with clever and stimulating direction, music, and acting.
The music is sophisticated, at times with classical music providing the mood for a shocking scene. At other times, the music is guttural and moody, filling the viewer with anxious anticipation of the next traumatizing scene. There are only two actors in the film, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe, and their convincing performances are really good. The narrative is broken up into chapters, giving the feeling of being in a book.
I would like to talk more about the film, such as the pervasive references to the medieval persecution of women, patriarchy, and gratuitous sexual violence, however I don't want to spoil the shocks and horrific surprises that the film contains!
The film is well worth downloading and watching. A lively torrent of the film can be found here, from the Pirate Bay.