I love it when I read comments from readers declaring a certain director as the best director in the world. Lars von Trier feels the same way about himself, which makes me imagine the conversation should von Trier have to argue with a Christopher Nolan devotee about who is better. It would be a fascinating discussion to say the least, and most likely one that would cause von Trier's head to explode.
I don't mention this in an attempt to say von Trier is the best director and Nolan isn't, but to point out what you're getting into when you purchase and begin to watch Criterion's presentation of von Trier's highly controversial and very personal film, Antichrist. Because a presentation is really what this is, as the production of this disc seems to be nothing more than a collection of elements provided by von Trier's Zentropa DVD production company, Electric Parc. This essentially means Criterion had little to do with this disc outside of its distribution. The included audio commentary and special features have been collected from two previous international releases, which means you get the Criterion treatment, but the overall feeling of a group of pre-packaged supplements.
As for the film, I can't say I was looking forward to returning to Antichrist, but this is merely a matter of preparation and being in the mood. This is a film that doesn't land on your doorstep and you rush to your Blu-ray player to watch it. This is more of a "movie of the moment." If you've seen it once before, I find it hard to believe you'll be chomping at the bit to start watching it all over again. Instead I assume there will be a sudden impulse that will come over you, urging you back to the chaos. When this will happen for me I'm not sure, but it hasn't yet.
Suffice to say, I wasn't rushing to watch this film again, but I did. And I won't use this time to explore my thoughts on the film -- I'll leave my theatrical review for those purposes -- but instead I'll comment on what's offered.
First off, the film was shot on digital so it's no surprise the picture is immaculate, and in some instances it may actually be too good. A few of the green screen effects stand out a bit more than they did in the theater, such as the scene with the falling acorns. And just like the video, the audio is equally impressive, boasting an immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that takes the highly effective score and uses it to its full advantage.
The supplemental features are, like I said, a compilation of previously released features, but there are a few noteworthy inclusions.
"The female animal is as it were a mutilated male"~ Aristoteles: De Generatione Animalium
The features begin with a gallery of rather extensive interviews, the shortest of the bunch belonging to von Trier while Charlotte Gainsbourg sits down for a 44-minute take and Willem Dafoe a shorter 19-minute sit down. Personally I didn't gain much from any of these, the same as I felt the audio commentary added little to the conversation.
On the commentary track von Trier is essentially interviewed by University of Kent professor Murray Smith and von Trier stutters and stammers his way through the questions for the film's 108-minute duration. I wouldn't have minded so much had he said anything of consequence, but it felt more like someone trying to keep his answers as guarded as possible so as not to entirely close down discussion on his film. I can respect that decision. I think filmmakers should keep quiet when it comes to films that stir up conversation on both sides of the fence, but in those cases perhaps an audio commentary isn't the best option and this one should have probably been done away with entirely.
Where the disc really shines is in the seven-part "The Making of Antichrist" section. Of the seven segments, which run from six to 16 minutes long, three stand out above the rest. The first is titled "Behind the Test Film," which is rather self-explanatory, but it's a good start for the whole collection as von Trier shot test footage in preparation for the film and the footage shows up throughout the making of featurettes.
Next is the longest of the seven, titled "Visual Style," which takes a look at not only cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle's work on the film, but more interesting are the visual effects segments. Here you'll see specific scenes broken down and pieced together before your eyes showing a progression from source footage to final product.
"When a woman has scholarly inclinations,
then something is usually wrong with her
sexually"~ Friedrich Nietzche: Beyond Good and Evil Aphorisms and Interludes
Finally, "The Evil of Woman" segment is absolutely spectacular and gives good example as to why films like this are so worthy of discussion. Here you'll learn from researcher Heidi Laura how she was asked to search for specific instances in history where evil was done unto women. This idea weighs heavily on the film as do the quotes from this feature -- offered from the likes of Aristotle and Friedrich Nietzche. I've included two such quotes in this review as a bit of food for thought. Is it just me, or does their addition in this review alone seem to change the mood of the room?
The features are wrapped up with footage and interviews from the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, including the instance where von Trier was confronted during a press conference and reacts to the situation by referring to himself as the "best director in the world." In all honesty it's one of the best comebacks I've heard.
As always, the trailer is included as well as an impressive 30-page illustrated booklet containing an essay by Ian Christie titled "All Those Things That are to Die," which you can read online right here.
Overall, this is a tough recommendation to make one way or the other. On one hand, if you found this film interesting and often return to film's that give your mind a bit of a "what for" then you may as well pick this up right now. However, I would never recommend this as an impulse buy. If you haven't seen this film yet, purchasing it blind is not recommended. Take this advice from someone that gave the film a "B" in his theatrical review and still had no desire to watch it when it arrived. Yet, I'm happy to have it on my shelf should I ever feel the need to return to von Trier's wicked version of Eden.