Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
Denmark/Germany/France/Sweden/Italy/Poland, 2009. Zentropa Entertainments, Zentropa International Koln, Slot Machine, Memfis Film, Trollhattan Film AB, Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Lucky Red, Zentropa International Poland, Danmarks Radio, Arte France Cinema, ZDF/Arte, ARTE, Film i Vast, Sveriges Television, CNC, Canal+, Det Danske Filminstitut, Deutscher Filmforderfonds, Liberator Productions, Nordisk Film & TV Fond,Polski Instytut Sztuki Filmowej, Svenska Filminstitutet, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen. Screenplay by Lars Von Trier. Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle. Produced by Meta Louise Foldager Sorensen. Music by Kristian Eidnes Andersen. Production Design by Karl Júlíusson. Costume Design by Frauke Firl. Film Editing by Asa Mossberg, Anders Refn.
Lars von Trier makes his most provocative film yet with this attention-grabbing but empty drama. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are a married couple whose child dies in an unfortunate accident, falling out of a window while they’re having sex. The resulting grief threatens to completely pervert Gainsbourg’s mind, so her therapist husband takes her away to a cabin in the woods (so subtly named “Eden”) where he will force her to face her fears and train her to tamp down her anxiety. Unfortunately, the untamed natural world has its sway and the wife’s madness veers toward the least expected directions.
Featuring graphic images of carnal sexuality and gory violence, including self-mutilation activity that would have made Bob Flanagan run from the screening room crying, this film is ultimately a complete fraud. Von Trier doesn’t successfully find the feral nature within human intellect, he simply runs out of ideas as to how to have these two people battle wits and so reverts to shock tactics to cover up for his lack of inspiration. It’s not as obviously cheap as it should be because he gets two incredibly powerful performances from both actors, Dafoe brilliantly reserved and Gainsbourg bewitchingly unhinged, but they can’t cover up for the fact that this film is dressed up to be much more than it actually is.
Von Trier has been accused of promoting misogyny, which might be an oversimplification; his previous films featured naïve female waifs being victimized by brutal masculinity, and here the female element finally fights back in what he thinks is the only way it knows how, primitively, while the male is completely unable to connect with women emotionally. The fact that his characters lack such depth in this case (unlike Breaking The Waves) reveals not misogyny but mere snobbery: von Trier believes that everyone is corrupt and he’s the only one who can see it clearly. At least when Werner Herzog is so condescending he does it with humour, and has the decency to let us see him go mad in the jungle along with his subjects.
The Criterion Collection: #542
Cannes Film Festival Award: Best Actress (Charlotte Gainsbourg)
European Film Award: Best European Cinematographer
Nominations: Best European Actress (Charlotte Gainsbourg); Best European Director (Lars Von Trier)
Toronto International Film Festival: 2009