Year: 2009
Production Co: Zentropa Entertainments
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe

There have been plenty of artists who loved nothing more than to shock. Indeed, there have been some – from The Sex Pistols to Robert Mapplethorpe – whose whole reason for being seems to have been to outrage and stir up controversy for its own sake (or maybe that of the publicity).

Lars von Trier isn't quite like that because his films – while not all 'good' – are certainly high quality, but you still get the feeling he loves nothing more than collecting the outraged comments and reviews his films generate.

Among the salvos into the realm of polite good taste in this film are the following; a toddler falling to its death while its parents (Gainsbourg and Dafoe) are having sex; a close-up of a woman cutting her clitoris off with a pair of scissors; and the same woman hitting her husband in the genitals with a block of wood and then masturbating him to orgasm while he's unconscious, causing him to ejaculate blood.

So no, it's not for the squeamish. And with scenes like the man imagining a fox telling him that chaos reigns, it's also not very easy to follow.

After the death of their young son during the opening coda, the pair retreat to a wooden cabin in the forest where the psychiatrist husband promises to treat his wife for her grief.

Once there it's not altogether clear whether it's her cracking up, him, or von Trier himself – the whole film (or most of it) the extended dream sequence of a tortured mind. The latter would actually make sense, as von Trier had been released from a mental hospital after two months of treatment for depression just prior to shooting.

At first the woman responds with a sort of disdained sexuality, trying to make love to her husband compulsively, making him angry with himself when he gives in. But things turn very strange when she inexplicably turns violent, and the grotesqueries mentioned above are just the worst of the whole bunch. If they're not enough to put you off there's also the scene where she drills a whole though his lower leg and attaches a heavy weight to a rod she jams through the flesh so he can't run away.

It's never made clear why she turns murderously violent, but suddenly it's a bloodthirsty chase through hostile forest more like Deliverance than anything about with grieving parents.

Von Trier no doubt knows what every facet and scene means and even though this is the least accessible storyline I've seen from him, it's still worth seeing for the technical accomplishment – if you can look at some of the scenes without flinching (I couldn't).

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