Posts Tagged ‘foreign film’

"The Crippled Masters" Movie Poster

And this, folks, is exactly why I started this semi-regular “international weirdness” series here. Once in awhile you come across a movie so bizarre, so completely without redeeming social or even narrative value, so exploitative, and so utterly out-and-out wrong that all you can do is stand back and gawk in amazement, as if you were at a freak show  — and given that exploitation cinema does, in fact, have its roots in roadshow cinema, which in turn has its roots is the carny/freak show circuit,  the circle sort of completes itself with movies like the 1979 Taiwanese martial arts/cripsploitation classic Tian Can De Que, or, as it’s known in English,  The Crippled Masters .

It’s debatable how much you even need to actually know about this film before you watch it, since the plot makes no sense, the credits are completely unclear as to which actor plays which part, and the whole thing is sort of indescribable anyway. The more I tell you, the more it’ll just spoil the experience of a film best taken in with absolutely no preconceptions whatsoever.

Which is, I guess, sort of me taking the easy way out as a reviewer, especially since my point here is to get you to see The Crippled Masters immediately (assuming you haven’t already done so, that is). And I do have some sort of semi-professional responsibility to tell you what the damn thing is about, don’t I?

Well, I guess I do. But I really think anything other than the briefest and most cursory rundown is going to just ruin things. Suffice to say we’re talking about a flick where two guys (supposedly brothers) are crippled by some bad-ass warlord-type dude in some vaguely-defined (to put it kindly) “ancient time” and, after learning to overcome their handicaps and mastering some secret old-school kung fu techniques come back to exact their revenge.

The thing that sets The Crippled Masters apart, though, is that the two lead actors actually are crippled — and their deformities are quite clearly not the work of an ancient warlord but of some serious congenital defects. But damn if they really don’t have some fighting moves every bit as authentic as their deformities.

And now I’m going to shut up and let a few still from the film do all the talking, apart from briefly mentioning that The Crippled Masters is avaiable as a bare-bones, bargain-basement DVD from Diamond (pictured below) that you can find on Amazon marketplace or eBay for a buck or two and, if this sort of thing is, in fact, your sort of thing, you’re going to thank me for turning you onto this flick.  Simply put, you will not believe your eyes.  And with that,  I’m just going to shut up and get out of the way.

"Tony Manero" Movie Poster

First off the bat an item of trivia/housekeeping : I believe that out offering under discussion today,  Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s 2008 film Tony Manero is the first movie named after a character from another movie. But I could be wrong — and if anyone reading this knows of any other examples, I’d love to hear about them. I get the nagging feeling I’m missing something obvious, but then I think about it an honestly, nothing else springs to mind. So if you can prove your humble host to be incorrect about this, please do so!

And with that out of the way, let’s have a look at this profoundly disaffecting and alienating shot-on 16mm (and blown up to 35mm for theatrical release, resulting in a very apropos graininess throughout) slice of heartless, dare I say even soulless, indie sleaze from my sister-in-law’s home country.

Not that I mean any of that as criticism, mind you — this flick is supposed to be grimy, sleazy, disaffecting, and alienating, because that’s the psychic, and sociopolitical, landscape that its protagonist (and this character surely stretches the definition of that term to its limit) inhabits.

Alfredo Castro as Tony Mane --- errrr, Raul

Veteran Santiago-based stage actor Alfredo Castro (who also co-wrote the script along with director Larrain and Mateo Iribarren) portrays our central character here, a ruthlessly- sociopathic- yet-otherwise-completely-hollowed-out-shell named Raul Peralta, who makes his way in the world as a fifty-something dance troupe leader/small-time gigolo/smaller-time hood in Pinochet’s Chile circa 1978, and as the title suggests, he’s quite literally obsessed with the film Saturday Night Fever and, more specifically, John Travolta’s Tony Manero. He sees the movie alone in empty theaters on weekday afternoons. He mouths along to English dialogue he barely (if at all) understands. He practices Travolta’s dance moves in front of his mirror. He choreographs elaborate exact imitations of the movie’s disco scenes for his cadre of (all much younger than he) dancers to perform and permits no deviation or improvisation. He even owns a complete white suit-black shirt ensemble that’s an close to an exact replica of that worn by his idol as one can scrounge up in a country with a completely closed-off society and economy. But his Manero acts feels incomplete, and to that end he’s got two overarching goals he’s pursuing to achieve his dream of losing himself in the character forever and never coming back —

First, he wants to replicate the interior of the 2001 Club disco from the movie as closely as possible within the confines of his shared dance studio space/living quarters . He wants the mirrored disco ball hanging from the ceiling, the glass floor, the whole nine yards.  And secondly, he wants to win the “Chilean Tony Manero” look-alike/dance-alike contest being held on a popular lunchtime TV program. And being the true aficionado/creepy uberfan that he is, there are no lengths he isn’t willing to go, nor depths he isn’t willing to sink, to make these wishes into reality.

Hey, look, I liked that movie too, but sometimes you can carry things bit far

Raul’s not a remotely pleasant, remotely sympathetic, or even remotely involving character. He’s willing to kill an old woman for her color TV, and then swap that TV in for glass blocks for his dream floor. He’s willing to play off the affections of three separate women in and around the periphery of his dance troupe while giving no indication of remotely giving a shit about any of them. He’s willing to steal watches from dead bodies. And when one of his young dance proteges is thinking of entering the same TV Tony Manero contest as him he’s willing to — well, I won’t say it. He doesn’t kill him. But it’s damn ugly.

Simply put, this is a character that offers no point of entry for audience identification in the least. He’s cruel without necessarily even trying to be and doesn’t care about the results of his cruelty. He uses people for reasons any other human being would find completely pointless. He displays absolutely no emotional affect whatsoever, even when the shit is hitting the fan all around him. He’s become the kind of nameless, faceless, pitiless void one needs to be in order to survive on the low-rent fringes of the criminal underworld in a military dictatorship.  He doesn’t live, he just exists.

Larrain is obviously showing the kind of walking corpses that fascist rule reduce people to, but he’s also drawing some obvious prallels between Raul and General Pinochet himself. One is willing to subsume or overlook all else and all others in pursuit of empty, pointless small-time ambitions, while the other is essentially doing the same thing on a national scale. After all, does compassion-free single-mindedness make any more sense in pursuit of propping up a failing regime than it does in service of imitating a fictional god of disco?

If you squint your eyes really tighly, he sorta looks like Travolta --- on a bad day 30 years in the future

There are moments of black comedy interspersed throught here, such as when Raul shows up a week early to the TV studio and finds himself there on “Chilean Chuck Norris” day, and when the theater he’s accustomed to seeing Saturday Night Fever at suddenly starts running Grease instead, we see Raul undergo the closest thing anybody this completely closed-off can have to an existential crisis when he witnesses Travolta playing another character on film and he just can’t handle it (an act of blasphemy that will cost the elderly projectionist and his wife who runs the box office their lives)  but mainly it’s just black, and unforgivingly so. Nobody this side of George Romero and Tom Savini has ever constructed such a perfect cinematic zombie, and Castro doesn’t use make-up and effects to do it (although he’s not above dyeing his hair and breaking out the blowcomb to more fully ape the appearance of the object of his obsession).

When things get too heavy in the film’s final reel, though, and the secret police start to move on the other members of his dance ensemble, specifically his aforementioned youthful protege Goyo (Hector Morales) for subversive political activity, we see Raul’s disaffected ultra-alienation for what it is — sheer cowardice. Here is a guy literally unwilling , even downright unable, to give a shit about anything outside of the pathetic singular concern that he’s whittled the focus of his existence down to.

Castro has crafted a powerfully singular performance unlike anything else you’ve ever seen here, but it’s literally impossible to “get into” what his character is all about because, quite frankly, you’re not supposed to. He’s dead in the brain, heart, and soul and watching that brought to the screen so completely convincingly certainly results in an absolutely unique viewing experience, but in no way is it an enjoyable one. There’s nothing for the viewer to grab onto, or find common cause with, or even understand. Raul racks up a body count not because he wants to, per se, or even just simply because he can — he just does it because, well, he does.

"Tony Manero" DVD from Lorber Films

Tony Manero received mixed and frankly often perplexed reviews when it played at venues like Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival, and was greeted with the same  general “yeah, it was well done, but what the fuck was it all about?” attitude when it played its limited US  theatrical run last year. It’s now been released on DVD from Lorber films (who handled said limited US theatrical run, as well) in a bare-bones, extras-free package. For what it’s worth, I found it to be utterly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and while I can’t say I exactly liked it per se, or found the character it was focused on remotely comprehensible, I do wholeheartedly recommend it as a true one-of-a-kind viewing experience.

"Lady Terminator" Ad Sheet

“First She Mates — Then She Terminates!” — Advertising Tag-Line for “Lady Terminator”

Your host is debuting a new semi-regular feature here at TFG where we take a look at some of the more bizarre Z-grade exploitation fare from around the globe, since,  as the Japanese, Italians, and others have proven over the years, the English-speaking world doesn’t hold a monopoly on head-scratchingly bizarre cinema — in fact, you could argue that we’re in the minor leagues compared to plenty of other countries. And I can’t think of a better place to begin our occasional examination of international film absurdities than with the 1988 Indonesian gem (and I use that term advisedly — context, people, context!) “Lady Terminator.”

First thought upon seeing the title is, naturally enough, “looks like a cheap ‘Terminator’ rip-off only with a chick.” Which is, of course, true. First impressions don’t lie — all the time. But there’s a lot more to this film than just that, as it incorporates local legend, aimed squarely at a largely working-class local audience, to deliver a truly Indonesian take on James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster, all while trying its level best (and failing) to look like an American Hollywood special effects extravaganza.

If blending the local with the desperate desire to appear like it was filmed somewhere — anywhere — else sounds incongruous to you, rest assured that it is, and it’s this attempt to both speak to, and simultaneously disguise and/or escape its roots, that gives “Lady Terminator” a unique personality all its own — albeit a highly schizophrenic one. The cheesy special effects, horrendous dubbing, lame acting, and cheap production values are just icing on the cake. The funnest thing about this film is watching how it tries to pitch itself to audiences at home by giving the story a distinctly Indonesian (specifically Javanese) backstory while trying to hustle its wares to audiences abroad by doing its level best (and, again, failing) to look like an LA-based production.

She doesn't look much like Ah-nuld, thank God

Our story begins hundreds — shit, maybe even thousands, by the look of things —of yea ago in an ancient, foreboding castle by the sea. There, the evil South Seas Queen slakes her apparently endless sexual thirst on an apparently endless succession of local men. The only problem : they all end up dead; their cocks chewed off  mid-intercourse,  a stream of blood spurting up their bodies. I know what you’re thinking here — the old “vagina dentata” myth, most recently explored cinematically in “Teeth.”  Hold on a second, though – one day, a mysterious (white) foreigner shows up and tames her with his John Holmes-like appendage. He also learns the secret to why every other guy who got tried on for size (pun sort of intended) ended up quite literally emasculated : there’s a sea serpent living inside the evil queen’s snatch, and he grabs it out, turns it into a dagger(?), and she ends up dead — but not before vowing that, in one hundred years’ time, she’ll have her revenge upon his great-granddaughter.

This, friends, in the ancient Javanese legend of the South Seas Queen (raise your hand if you knew that one — I admit I didn’t). Yes, it’s a variation on the “vagina dentata” theme just mentioned, but probably the type of variation that could only come from an island culture, fused as it is with “sea monster”-type legend.

Fast-forward 100 years and we’re in the present day (well, 1988). I know what you’re thinking — I said that whole castle scene looks like it took place centuries ago. And it does. But whatever. In our new, modern segment of the story we’ve got a beautiful,  ethnically vague (my guess is half Indonesian half white)  young anthropologist named Tania (Barbara Anne Constable) about to head underwater for a diving excursion. She’s  investigating the legend of the South Seas Queen and believes she’s located the whereabouts of her castle so she wants to see if there are any artifacts from it lying on the sea bed. I didn’t know anthropologists were interested in shit that’s only 100 years old, either, but again — whatever. It’s called suspension of disbelief, people, and trust me when I say that if you want to keep up with events in “Lady Terminator,” your very survival depends on it.

Anyway, Tania’s boat is capsized by a tsunami and soon she finds herself on the bottom on the sea. In a bed. in a dry room. Naked (she spends a good 50% of her screen time at least topless, if not fully nude, although there’s very little by way of full frontal stuff). Whereupon the evil sea serpent that had possessed the wicked queen enters her (entirely unconvincingly) vaginally.

Then it’s back up to the surface to pick up right where our evil snake left off — Tania and her new body-sharing mate are determined to fuck, then kill, every guy in sight, and to track down the granddaughter of the guy who put a stop to their last round of carnal homicide. The Lady Terminator is born!

I'm gonna wash that blood right outta my eye ---

This is the point at which the movie moves firmly into Cameron clone territory, albeit with a few twists — for one thing, the Lady Terminator is not half-robot, or whatever the hell Ah-nuld was. But she’s every bit as indestructible. Apparently, the cops — as well as hotel and mall security guards — in Indonesia have an endless supply of automatic weaponry, but all the uzi fire in the world, even at point-blank range, doesn’t stop this lady. Nor do helicopter-fired missiles. Or fiery car wrecks. When her eye gets bloody, she just pops is out of its socket, washes it off with a combination of water and crackling electricity, and sticks it back in. The only thing that can harm her is an ancient amulet worn by Erica (Claudia Angelique Rademaker), the granddaughter she’s hunting down.  But will out erstwhile heroine figure this out in time?

The other areas in which this film deviates from the James Cameron blueprint are in the sheer amount of sex and violence packed into its 85-minute runtime and the rushed mouthfuls of dialogue that fly non-stop. It almost feels like a Reader’s Digest condensed version of a longer film.  And the action almost feels like it’s following the script of the original “Terminator” film and turning it up a few notches just because it can. In fact, it’s got almost as much non-stop mayhem as “Terminator 2,” and almost bears a closer resemblance in many key respects to that film, even though “Lady Terminator” came out a few years earlier. It’s enough to make you wonder if Cameron had actually seen this thing before starting work on his sequel — in which case “Terminator 2” would be a copy of a copy of his original.

But back to the story, such as it is. Erica’s an up-and-coming wannabe actress/pop star, and the only recognizably Indonesian member of the principal cast (even though her great-granddaddy was supposedly white).She’s protected by a stereotypical tough young cop named Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart), who is obviously American (and working for the Indonesian cops — don’t ask me how that works), and equally obviously only speaks English. In fact, a good half this movie looks like it was shot in English but then dubbed over anyway.  Max got put on the case when a bunch of dickless dead bodies started turning up at the morgue. Soon he’s trying to protect Erica from her indestructible pursuer and starting up a romance with her at the same time. That’s generally how these sorts of things work.

The action all takes place at decidedly American-looking locales, from shopping malls to hotels to airports (all with signs in English). It’s as though director H. Tjut Djalil (given a phony Anglicized name in the credits, as are all the cast and crew) and screenwriter Karr Kruinowz figured they were done with the Indonesian part of the story after the opening set-up and, having captured the interest of the locals, would spend the rest of the film trying to make as American-looking a production as possible in case they could actually pick up some overseas distribution (which, in fact, they did — “Lady Terminator” actually played a few 42nd street grindhouses in the waning days of the pre-Disneyfied Deuce).

A rough day at the office for the Lady Terminator

The final climactic battle is pure Cameron rip-off, albeit on steroids, with an emaciated, disfigured, grotesque Lady Terminator engaging in a last, desperate, ultra-violent battle with our heroes. The only thing missing is the red eye and dangling robot parts. Then we’ve got some voice-over narration at the end that takes everything back to the realm of ancient Indonesian legend even though the previous 70-plus minutes have been a desperate attempt to look as American as possible. Go figure.

"Lady Terminator" DVD from Mondo Macabro

“Lady Terminator” is available on DVD from Mondo Macabro. Despite not having featuring a commentary track, which probably would have been almost impossible to produce given the language barriers involved even if they had managed to track down all the principals behind the scenes, it’s a truly excellent package. The anamorphic transfer is generally sharp and crisp aside from some entirely forgivable and excusable grainy spots in parts, the digital mono soundtrack is perfectly fine, and the extras include a superb mini-documentary on the history of Indonesian exploitation cinema and an extremely thorough and comprehensive text essay on the origins and production of “Lady Terminator” that includes some still photos as well as promotional artwork for this film and Djalil’s previous cinematic offering, the equally-befuddling, but ultimately less engaging, “Mystics in Bali.” All in all, an extremely worthy addition to your DVD library.

“Lady Terminator” is a singularly bizarre movie experience, and one not to be missed. In attempting to appeal to both a local audience and to the international — specifically the American — market, Djalil and company ended up making a film that feels like it was made not in America or in Indonesia —  or even on the planet Earth for that matter — but one that landed here from another dimension altogether.

antichrist_hd_poster

"Antichrist" Movie Poster

Apparently, on at least one occasion during the publicity blitz for his latest film, “Antichrist,” Lars von Trier has referred to himself as the world’s greatest living director. Really. Not only is this a mistaken opinion, it’s just plain factually inaccurate, and “Antichrist” is ample proof of this, because the world’s greatest living director would, presumably, have at least something to say, and von Trier quite clearly does not.

This is not to say that the film doesn’t have some things going for it. It’s almost painfully beautiful to look at at times, and almost each and every shot is worth framing as a museum piece. Unfortunately, it’s exquisite craftsmanship in service of nothing, as the “deep” and “meaningful” themes that von Trier spends the entire film announcing at top volume that he’s purportedly exploring are, in fact, nowhere to be found. von Trier has pretentiously dedicated this film to Tarkovsky, but has apparently only absorbed the techniques of surface visual majesty mastered by the Russian great while learning nothing from him of the art of truly exploring dark and harrowing subject matter. It’s rather like tracing an outline of the Mona Lisa and having the temerity to “dedicate” the finished “product” to da Vinci.

The most consistent criticism of von Trier’s previous work is that he’s used shock value to cover for the fact that his material is actually painfully superficial and half-understood, and while that’s an accurate enough summation of the inherent weaknesses of films like “Dancer in the Dark” and “Breaking the Waves,” it’s double, triply, quadruply true for the masturbatory, self-indulgent mess that is “Antichrist.” Never, in this reviewer’s memory,  has so little been insistently and vociferously packaged as being so much. von Trier’s stilted and hackneyed dialogue, so wretched it makes Ed Wood’s worst excesses seem naturalistic,  literally screams “Look at me! I’m important!” from start to finish, but announcing one’s importance and actually having any are far from being the same thing, a lesson that von Trier has, painfully and obviously, not yet learned.

And truth be told, that’s the damned thing not only about film, but about all art in this fallen world of ours — yes, cinema, novels, poetry, painting, all forms of artistic self-expression are important — unfortunately, in this day and age, the overwhelming majority of people with the free time, financial resources, and wherewithal to produce it aren’t. It’s wonderful that folks have something to say and a well-nigh endless variety of mediums in which to say it, but that doesn’t mean that most of those who are doing so are worth listening to. Self-absorbed, self-indulgent, overwrought pretentiousness is crap no matter how skillfully it’s communicated or how boisterously it declares its own perceived greatness. von Trier has a definite gift at the art of visual communication, but to date the messages he’s conveyed have bordered on complete worthlessness, and with “Antichrist” he finally crosses that border without trepidation. It’s a giant headfirst leap into complete and utter pointlessness, a madman laughing with abandon as he pisses in his audience’s face for no other reason than he can,  and then has the temerity to tell them they’re not worthy to drink it.

von Trier’s trajectory is clear from the get-go, as first we get his name splashed across the screen (not “a film by Lars von Trier,” or “a Lars von Trier film,” just “Lars von Trier”), then we get the movie’s title card, then we get thrust into the “epilogue,” a scene of black-and-white operatic beauty as the lead characters, He and She (they’re never given names, and frankly don’t do anything in the film to deserve them, although both roles are tackled with consummate professionalism by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, respectively, who both deserve far better material than they’re given here), fuck in the shower while their toddler-age son, Nic, tumbles out an open window to his death. Yes, we see some quick full-on sexual penetration here, but the real “pornography” here is von Trier choosing to film a child’s death in slow-motion elegance. It’s the first of countless instances of him trying to be “shocking” and “transgressive” that completely miss the mark and end up being more cheap and exploitative than even Shaun Costello or Zebedy Colt on their worst days.

Quickly we learn that He is a therapist, though not a Ph.D., and She is, or was, a graduate student working (when she does) on her thesis, the topic of which is, I kid you not, “gynocide.” And like the filmmaker himself, their trajectory is also painfully plain to see from the outset, as they are trapped in a downward — hell, a doomward — spiral right out of the gate. She can’t cope with the loss of their son while He, at least on the surface, is coping all to well and seeks to “cure” her not only as her husband/lover (whether or not they’re actually married is never spelled out), but also as her therapist. They try to work through things at their posh artist loft-type home, but when that doesn’t work out, it’s off to the wilderness and isolation when they retreat to a cabin they presumably own in a deep, dense forest called — yawn — Eden.

Let’s be honest, we don’t need von Trier to hit us over the head with the idea that city folk who head out to the woods are fucked, it’s been a constant theme in horror cinema for years, and von Trier, for all his visual aplomb, doesn’t do the concept nearly as much as justice as, say, James Bryan did in “Don’t Go In The Woods,” to pick just one example out of literally hundreds.

Oh, but von Trier has so much more to say here than just that. Doesn’t he? Why, just ask him. And therein lies the problem. Underneath all the overstated psychodrama — is He really looking to help She, or is He seeking to draw her more deeply into his web of manipulation and control? Is She really imbalanced, or does She merely accurately sense the threat He poses to her freedom? Does He even really care about She, or is He merely seeking to gratify his own ego by “curing” her? Are both of them merely stand-ins for the silent tyranny that underscores all male-female interpersonal relationships? — there just isn’t much there. It’s as if von Trier thinks the act of stating that he’s “delving into” these larger themes is tantamount to actually doing so. Sorry, Lars, bot no amount of grandiloquence can disguise the fact that the median temperature of this film is ice cold and that the “passions” at its core are pure plastic.

He is never shown to be anything more than a two-dimensional manipulative bastard and She is a raw, emotionally imbalanced basket case who only feels alive when being fucked, being hurt, or both at once. He is pure calculation, She pure emotion, and both are out of control in their own respective fashion. Of course, She is the one we’re supposed to have some modicum of sympathy for, being that von Trier is an enlightened type of guy, and even when She’s screwing a 20-pound wight through the flesh and bond of He’s ankle in order to hold him down, the message is that She is fighting back, asserting her control and independence through the only avenue He has left her, namely by imprisoning him physically in the same manner he has imprisoned her psychically and emotionally. There’s this supposedly bold, anti- misogynist (wow, talk about going out on a limb — misogyny is bad? Why, I had no idea. What tough stand will he take next? Is genocide evil, too? Murder? Rape? Torture? Damn, talk about gutsy!) statement at the heart of the proceedings here, you see.

Or maybe you don’t. You could be forgiven for missing it, certainly, since the overall tone of the film is, in fact, relentlessly misogynistic and even downright sadistic. Not that your reviewer is necessarily averse to the idea that hitting an audience over the head with an idea, and indeed even incorporating the worst excesses of said idea, is often the best way to expose that idea and to subvert its power. On the contrary, one of my favorite films of all time is “Cannibal Holocaust,” which deftly and expertly incorporates the techniques of “mondo” or “shockumentary” filmmaking in order to to lay bare its grotesque excesses (incidentally, this is a movie that has only gained power and resonance over the years with the advent of “reality” television and DIY, “YouTube”/handheld-style filmmaking, but I digress), but Deodato was willing to throw caution to the wind and to cross the very lines he was condemning in order to communicate his point — to make himself a hypocrite in order to make his film both honest and genuinely harrowing. It’s shocking not only for what it shows but for the power with which it shows it, power that can only come from absolute authenticity.  von Trier hasn’t even got the guts to give his “deep and resonant” themes anything more than the most cursory glance. He gives us a story of two bourgeois characters “inflicted” with shallow bourgeois problems  and thinks he’s addressing universal themes when, in truth, we actively want both of these people to die, and the sooner the better, their “inner turmoil” be damned. And therein lies another missed opportunity — in order to give a fuck about these people’s problems, we’ve got to give a fuck about these people in the first place, and we’re never given a reason to do so. Two upper-class, self-absorbed slimebags have tragedy visited upon them? Too bad for the kid,absolutely, but given that von Trier himself chose to film his death in such an artistically prurient and, yes, pretentious manner, we never feel too much heartache or loss there — in fact, the child and his death are just a tool to be used for the filmmaker to get at the “meat” of the purported psychodrama that plays out between the couple themelves, a means to an end, nothing more.  But that end is nothing but the cinematic equivalent of a lifeless suburban cul-de-sac — traveled to in style, I’ll grant you that, but it still doesn’t mask the barren worthlessness of the destination itself.  Sure, von Trier’s knock-out punches connect on occasion ( the talking fox, for instance, actually works), but they’re delivered with weighted gloves — his actual fists themselves have no power.

And so “Antichrist” is testament to nothing more than the power of artifice. It’s pretense declared as meaning, gutlessness self-proclaimed as bravery, the US invading Grenada in order to declare the world “safe for democracy,” all delivered by a filmmaker who’s gotten in deep over his head without ever leaving the shallow end of the pool. The stated intent of “Antichrist” is to challenge the viewer every single fucking step of the way, but in the end the only challenge is to sit through the whole thing to the end.

There’s symbolism aplenty, delivered time and time again, in the form of a pregnant doe and the aforementioned talking fox and the fictional “three beggars” constellation, and acorns falling on the roof of the cabin, but in order to interpret it successfully, or even unsuccessfully, first you have to actually actively care about what it all might mean. “Antichrist” never gives you reason to. It’s just two solid hours of celluloid navel-gazing for its own sake. Apparently von Trier was emerging from a — yawn — long, deep depression (oh, the unique existential pain that must come from being a wealthy, self-obsessed “indie” filmmaker) when he conceived of this flick, and is attempting to engage some of the issues he dealt with while in said — yawn again — depression without crossing the line into full-blown on-screen therapeutic release. I dunnno, if I were him, I’d be a hell of a lot more depressed now, if I had faced the “long, dark night” of my soul and this was the best I could come up with.

There’s a scene in the film that could effectively stand in for the entirety of “Antichrist”  as a whole :  He, knocked unconscious by She, is lying on the floor with a monster erection, and She takes takes said hard-on in her hands and yanks on it until it ejaculates blood all over her. That’s all von Trier is doing here — jerking us all off, collectively, until we cum more as a means of registering our disgust than anything else.

Perversely, the inherently nihilstic undertones sledgehammered away at throughout “Antichrist” are proven to be true not by anything said by the film itself, but by its mere existence. Yes, we are a hopelessly fucked lot in general, and yes, all is lost, and yes, existence itself is quite likely pointless — any species that can produce even one member as shallowly self-absorbed as von Trier proves himself to be with “Antichrist” is well beyond any hope of redemption. All of our efforts at nobility, altruism, generosity,  and kindness aside, the fact that even one human being could come up with anything this wretchedly egotistical is, I’m afraid, enough to damn us all. So if there is indeed any higher power at work in the universe who sits in judgment over all of creation, I’d like to apologize on behalf of the entire human race for the fact that one of us made this film. I hope you won’t hold it against us as a whole, but really, if you decide to do so, I can’t say that I’d blame you.