Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Capsule reviews: Antichrist, Colombiana

Antichrist (2009, Lars Von Trier)

Readers should be forewarned: this is Between the Seats' first Trier experience, hence no points of reference exist. Many discussions devoted to the director's work seem to employ comparative analysis, but that, of course, won't be the case in this snippet of a review.

The film's sumptuously beautiful opening scene, shot in slow motion and remarkably detailed black and white, has a man and wife (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) make love in the shower and in their bedroom. Unbeknownst to the couple, their young child escapes its baby crib, inexplicably walks through the window and fall to its death several stories below. From that point onwards the film depicts the progressively insane period of shock and mourning, during which time the husband, some sort of psychologist (the movie does not dabble with the details), decides to treat his own wife, who is in a dangerous flux of emotions. When they take these exercises to their cabin in the woods, that is when things go absolute haywire in demonic fashion. The wife may be experiencing something much more than just mourning...

Whatever thematic resonance Antichrist holds, and some of it may be the bane of many a viewer given how grim the picture is, there is no denying the genuine artistry that went into producing this movie. From beginning to end, Trier and his crack team give viewers a boat load of beautiful images which either surprise for their beauty when juxtaposed against the tragic events unfolding, or simply do a phenomenal job at making the world of Antichrist that much more nightmarish. The hues and colour palettes make the vast majority of the film seem like an unforgettable dream, albeit one many might want to forget. The sequence during which Dafoe has Gainsbourg imagine herself walking towards their cabin because that is a place she supposedly fears is freakishly beautiful, with a lot of emphasis put on the 'freakish' aspect.

As for what the story and character development is aiming for, that can be anyone's guess. When digging deeper for some clues, one might conclude that the narrative and its ideas come across as a rather mixed bag of things. The film begins like it will play out as a harrowing, twisted drama between a man who psychoanalyzes his own wife, an idea which in of itself may be the source for some potentially riveting and twisted drama, then delves into some more moody and mysterious scenes, only to conclude with what amounts to bold material much in the tradition of solid genre fair, with some deliciously disgusting moments that will make almost anyone squirm. In that sense, the journey is an unexpected one, which can obviously be seen as a positive, although the picture's focus, so far as story and theme go, is perhaps not its strongest element. Need it be, though? That is another discussion altogether.

Colombiana (2011, Oliver Megaton)

Straight out of the Luc Besson playbook (who co-wrote the script, which comes as no surprise), Colombiana follows one woman, Cateleya (Zoe Saldana), whose tragic past during childhood leads her to her uncle's (Cliff Curtis) line of business: assassinations via. While she does perform whatever her uncle's enterprise is contracted for, her personal side jobs are aimed squarely at those who murdered her parents many years ago, while simultaneously juggling a tenuous love affair with a hunky painter (Michael Vartan).

There are no true surprises when it comes to films such as these. Unless someone comes along and offers up some sort of intellectually provocative deconstruction of the assassination revenge genre, everybody walking into this movie should what is coming, honestly. Even Haywire, which this blog praised a few days ago, reserved no unexpected revelations in terms of plotting. The success of Colombiana, or any other picture of this ilk, boils down to how compelling the lead is, how badly the viewer wants the villain to get what is coming to him (or her) and how impressive the action is.

Unfortunately, in case of Oliver Megaton's film, only the first of those three aspects succeed, that is, the interest one might have in Zoe Saldana and the character of Cataleya. Somewhat defying expectations, Saldana does inject some heart and charm into an otherwise deadly serious role. Granted, the moments when emotions other than 'I'm going to kill you now' kick in are far and few between, but, surprisingly enough, they do work. An interesting spin on the love angle is that in the case of Colombiana, the gender roles are reversed, with the man being continuously left at home after a night of passion, wondering when the apple of his eye will ever commit to the relationship. Apart from that, neither the villains of the piece nor the action arouse much interest, the worse culprit of the two being the latter. Megaton, perhaps because he is not convinced by the training his actors went through in preparation for the physicality demanded of the roles, relies on an incalculable number of quick edits when the bullets and fists fly. The sense of geography about almost all the stunts and fights is messy and ill-defined, leaving the viewer with a blazé feeling about the entire affair. It may star Saldana, a very talented actress in her own right who does as well as she can under the circumstances, but Colombiana does not deliver the goods overall.


thevoid99 said...

Wow... you saw Antichrist and survived.

I'm going to post my 7th Auteurs piece on Lars von Trier this coming Friday. I'm just doing other things right now relating to the Oscars.

edgarchaput said...

@thevoid: There isn't much to survive from, notwithstanding a couple of really gross moments. The horror lies in a lot of the beautiful visuals, ironically enough, not the amount of truly 'ZOMG! moments, of which there really aren't that many I felt.

Courtney Small said...

I remember seeing Antichrist at TIFF at 9 am on a Saturday morning. Not the type of film you should see first thing in the morning1 While I really enjoyed the first half of the film, I found that Von Tier loses his focuses in the latter half. He forgets about all the interesting gender issues he raised and becomes obsessed with shocking the audience as much as possible. I agree that the opening is gorgeous though.

I am currently halfway through Colombiana...hopefully I will finish it this weekend. Though, to be honest, I have no real desire to see how it ends.

edgarchaput said...

@CS: Ironically, I watched 'Antichrist' last Sunday morning. Yeah, it certainly is one way to get a wake up call.

Hmm, if you're halfway through 'Colombiana' and are not excited to see how it ends, I can't promise anything great. It's pretty much more of the same in the second half.