“Antichrist: the debate continues
Over the past week, I received a number of responses regarding my “Antichrist review, a film, it seems, I’m bound to discuss much longer than I had anticipated. Before thrashing out my miserable experience at the Egyptian movies this week, I’d like to clarify a few points.
First off, I still can’t work out the logic behind the assessments that call the film “ridiculous or “implausible. As I mentioned last week, “Antichrist is set in an alternative universe that resembles the real one only on the surface. Lars von Trier tricks his audience into believing that the relationship of Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg is realistic. The reality is the psychology of the pair is seldom accurate; their behavior is largely irregular.
Few details in the films are meant to be taken literary, including the infamous talking fox. If you intend to immerse yourself inside von Trier’s world, you must check rationality at the door. Not once throughout his entire career has von Trier aimed for the realistic, and that includes “Dancer in the Dark with its copious musical sequences. “Antichrist is no exception.
Some questioned von Trier’s intentions behind making the film, taking on the prevalent belief that he’s simply playing another sick joke on his audiences. I find this reading to be exceedingly oversimplified.
As some critics pointed recently, von Trier is perfectly capable of turning funny when he needs to. His 1994 hit series “The Kingdom and 2006’s black comedy “The Boss of It All are a testament to this. “Antichrist is work of great gravity that aims to provoke and distress. Assailing the viewers with nonsensical hullabaloo is the last thing von Trier is aspiring to accomplish.
Von Trier is fundamentally a moralist; a strong adherer to the kind of orthodox spirituality that defined the works of great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, whom “Antichrist is dedicated to.
“Antichrist is von Trier’s least didactic film in many years, partly because the actual message of the film, if there is one, is ambiguous. What the film offers is an uncommon view of existence. And although the basic framework of the story is quite solid, large chunks of the film appear to be driven by instinct and compulsion.
The accusations of misogyny have also found a wide base of advocates. Von Trier’s knack for torturing his female protagonists in “Breaking The Waves, “The Idiots, “Dancer in the Dark and “Dogville has cemented this theory in the minds of film critics and feminists alike. Once again, I can’t buy into this assumption.
“The male protagonists in my films are basically all idiots who don’t understand s–t, von Trier said in a past interview, “Whereas the women are much more human, and much more real. It’s the women I identify with in all my films.
Indeed, in “Antichrist, Dafoe comes across as a cocky charlatan who disregards his wife’s anguish. Gainsbourg is the tragic and sympathetic heroine of the story. In fact, it’s the sympathy von Trier envelopes his character with that prevents the film from becoming a full-blown horror.
Several critics believe that von Trier is implying that women are inherently evil; that the seed of wickedness carried by Eve has been passed on to all women.
The subsequent revelations about Gainsbourg and the final act are too vague to find sound validations in support this argument. The way I see it is that the final act fits better with von Trier’s overall parable than any specific analysis of the characters’ psyche.
I’ve read tens of different interpretations of the ending and they all seem to make sense. That’s the real beauty of “Antichrist. Whether the film is good or bad is beside the point. Love him or hate him, the fact of the matter is cinema needs fearless auteurs like von Trier.
In the company of the dictator
I went to watch Ihab Lamey’s alleged ‘political satire’ “The Dictator at my favorite shabby downtown theater a few days ago. I found out that the 6:30 screening has been called off because, apparently, not a single audience member showed up.
I should’ve seen the signs, but I chose not to. And although friends recommended heading to the exit door as soon the intermission lights are turned on, I heroically managed to stay until the end. I must report that I now truly regret this foolish errand I chose to undertake.
“The Dictator is set in a fictional country called Bambozia run by a Saddam Hussein-like dictator (Hassan Hosni) and his two idiotic twin sons: Hakim and Aziz (Khaled Sarhan). The promos of the film promise a bold critique of present Egyptian politics. As I found out 15 minutes into the film, “The Dictator has absolutely no relation to Egypt.
Lamey – whose previous film crimes include “Kan Youm Hobak (The Day of Your Love), “Elakat Khasa (Special Relationships) and “Al Hawa (On Air) – offers no allusions to Egypt whatsoever; no criticism, no ideas, no vision … nothing. What Lamey indulges his viewers with are kitschy music numbers forced into the drama, coarse sexual innuendos and base comedy that didn’t incite any laughter in my cinema.
The thin plot sees the toothless tyrant overthrown by a coup along with his older son who literally does nothing except selling every institution in the country to China. Meanwhile, the younger twin, Aziz, travels to Egypt with one objective on his head: to sleep with as many girls as possible.
Like every Egyptian film of the past 80 years, one girl, an Egyptian teacher (played by Lebanese chanteuse Maya Nasry) rejects his advances. For some reason known only to Lamey and his crew, she consequently falls in love with him when he hits rock bottom.
The film is essentially composed of a group of scenes, different in tone and dramatic unity, spliced randomly in a way that recalls the glories of the 1980s’ trash cinema. The elements of drama are non-existent. No character development, no logical flow of events, no proper set up for the action, no believable resolution.
“The Dictator is a failure in every level. As a comedy, it’s unoriginal and the jokes are awfully stale. It’s too timid to take risks. It’s also not broad enough to soar into the wacky terrains of Raafat El-Mihi’s comedies. The film lies uncomfortably somewhere in the middle, satisfied with its own mediocrity.
As a political satire, it neither has the brains nor the wit. The most shameful aspect of the film is its gutlessness. Nowhere in the film does Lamey attempt to take any stabs against any target. “The Dictator strangely works in a void, inattentive to the world around it. The film is simply too involved in its self-funniness to present anything of substance.
The feeble ending is equally exasperating. Lamey suggests that there’s no end to oppression, that no matter how hard people fight for the independence, their efforts are destined to fail because the tyrants will always bounce back and magically retain their power.
By the end of the film, I kept wondering who the real dictator is. Is it Lamey with his unimaginative direction? Is it the producer who could’ve trampled Lamey’s ambitions (highly unlikely though)? Is it Sarhan who may have demanded some changes in the script?
Ladies and gentlemen, the real dictator is everyone who forces his/her pals to watch this squalid mess.
Astonishingly “The Dictator is supposed to be the best of all six Eid releases. As I rushed to the exit door, I couldn’t help but wonder what other atrocities await me.