Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is like a Lars Von Trier for the recreational filmgoer: he knows how to make artsy edginess palatable for the masses. Moonrise Kingdom follows Anderson’s usual storybook directing style. An Anderson film is always, colorful, character-ful, graphic and socially hip. That said, an Anderson film is also usually rich with story; the one place where Moonrise Kingdom is lacking.

The film is actually (I’d argue) the darkest of all Anderson’s work, and maybe that’s partly what continues to hold me through it even though it ultimately leaves me wanting more. Characters come and go like plastic chess pieces, only used to propel the narrative forward in most cases. While Anderson’s previous work only had this pretentious two-dimensional character problem in small doses, it should be noted that Moonrise Kingdom has this problem throughout – even the main characters are in many ways dimly lit.

Similarly, but in direction opposition to Von Trier, Anderson leaves a lot up to the viewer in this film, with cardboard-like performances from the actors against detail-saturated set designs that make you feel like you’re watching a school play gone awry. Again, this is standard stuff for an Anderson film, but all of his previous work through in many ways nauseatingly flat, always also held deeply introspective stories that made it seem sort of like you were reading a book that came to life in front of you. Comparing Kingdom to, say, Von Trier’s Dogville, where the viewer is tasked with filling in the blanks of the chalk-outline set design yet given more character detail than they may want to handle, both of these directors seem to like working against their audiences, only in direct opposition of one another.

The beauty of an Anderson film is that his style is so utterly easily digestible by mainstream moviegoers, it’s going to be virtually impossible, I fear, to ever see him get a terrible review from someone. Von Trier, however, many times uses imagery and forthrightness in his cinema that the mainstream will more than likely be repelled by, despite how much the critical masses will tout his genius.

If we look behind the curtain, there’s two things really going on here: First of all, Kingdom is endearing because of its two main characters which are brainy, quirky, adolescents. They’re also oddly easy to misconstrue as fledgling hipsters. In fact, there’s no way you can watch this film and not think if these two kids hit 18 today they’d be dressed in skinny jeans with black framed boxy glasses and unkempt hair.

Second, it’s a love story between these two kids. One of those love stories that you stick with because it’s precious, simplistic, virtuous and yet there’s an element of danger to it.

That’s it – that’s where the film excels – on these two areas alone. It’s in its artsy vapidness that the audience can easily get lost and fall in line with the narrative, willing to follow it to the end, but I worry there’s nothing tangible to Anderson’s kind of cinema except the fleeting moments when a new character (played by a usually stellar character actor) pops up in a scene and you get to whisper to your viewing patron in the seat next to you, “Hey, isn’t that so-and-so?”

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Antichrist

You know that old adage, “The devil is in the details?” Well, in Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist it is. He shows so much, yet we glean nothing really. Antichrist is an extremely powerful film and one that no doubt has much meaning embedded within it, but it’s hard to get past some of the graphic depictions of details in order to focus on what it all means. According to the credits, Von Trier employed researchers in the areas of misogyny, myth, etc., so it would appear he wants he content to be taken seriously. The problem for me was the incessant need to insert these gasp-worthy images, which upon initial viewing at the time, repelled me.


Now that I step back and think about it all again while I write this, I am starting to think maybe there was a method in his madness. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, the set up. Von Trier’s film (supposedly part of an unofficial trilogy) stars the awesome Willem Dafoe playing a rather disaffected therapist who is in a relationship with a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg in a role that may make you listen differently to her latest record “IRM”). We are never really given much detail about her personal life with him except she recently completed a thesis (so she’s a graduate) who is also the mother of their child. The child dies in the first scene of the film while unattended to by the parents who are on a house-wide sex spree.

There has been much debate on what this film means, Von Trier knows this going into production I’m sure, and there’s even an in-joke in the film when Dafoe’s character begins keeping a log of what Gainsbourg’s fears are: the woods, nature, Satan, herself. Each one he scratches out as he concludes that he’s not figured it out yet. I think her greatest fear is pleasure. Immediately after her child dies, she is grief-stricken. Dafoe is too, but seeing how desperate she has become as a result of this event, he quickly becomes hardened and finds himself serving as her therapist in order to see her though the pain. I believe that he hardens himself for this reason not only because he wants to be the rock for her in this time, but because it enables him to think about and focus his thoughts on something else.


They gradually become a powder keg and he finds that helping her is more of a challenge than he expected, but this doesn’t happen quickly, instead it takes place in a specific structure laid out for the meat of the story: grief, pain, and despair. Grief is terrible, Pain is worse, and Despair is the gory, climactic final act. Grief is about discovering what it is that she can do to quell the hurt inside of her. She trusts in Dafoe, knowing that because of their intimacy he is not the ideal therapist for her in this time of need, but he makes the hard-to-refute argument that no other therapist could know her as well as he does and that is what is most important. He soon discovers that she has a fear of the woods where she worked on her thesis and raised their child for a time. So, in an effort to address that fear, he takes her back there.

Pain takes us through their journey in the woods of her past as they hike up to the cabin in which she lived with the child. Her greatest fear of the woods she says is the darkness which they harbor, but Von Trier places just about every scene in the broad daylight in a way to just psyche us out even more. What horror could possibly happen in the glorious daylight? How about a deer miscarrying? A fledgling bird of prey falling from its nest into an anthill? Or a fox eating itself? These are the daydream-like nightmares that begin to plague Dafoe as he enters into the world of pain that envelops Gainsbourg. In this segment, we also come to learn that Gainsbourg may not have been the best mother to her child either (something that is reiterated in the final segment of Despair as well). Dafoe learns of the fact that his child’s feet actually grew with a slight abnormality as a result of Gainsbourg putting his little shoes on the wrong feet. This is sort of a turning point for him, as he begins to question his relationship with her and the love that he may or may not still have. She notices his dissent and subsequent subtle retraction from her and this leads them to Despair.

Despair for her is different than it is for him. Despair for Gainsbourg is all about destroying (in this case maiming) anything that gives her pleasure in her life. It’s a hard segment to sit through, but it makes sense in terms of where they are in their lives. He seems only really able to help her by having sex with her anymore, and this is clearly not only what she needs in order to find herself again.

The best Von Trier I’ve ever seen (and one that allows itself to be subtle but powerful) is Breaking the Waves with Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson. I feel the urge to draw some sort of a comparison to the two films here, because Waves is very much akin to Antichrist in that it is about the ramifications of the absence of pleasure in a relationship between a man and a woman.

Taking cues from Alain Renais, the characters are nameless in Antichrist, simply referred to as He and She in the credits, but they don’t need names to be interesting. Similar in effect to Dogville, Von Trier is looking for ways he can break down the expectations of his audience and focus them in on what he finds most important. Every beautiful shot in this film shows only as much as he wants us to see. He folds us through the story as if we were reading it, each chapter heading giving a little clue as to what lies next. It’s extremely manipulative and some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen in a while.

Bastard Sets Its Sights On You

Actress Kirsten Dunst’s short film Bastard is playing the Critic’s Week at Cannes this month and at Tribeca after that. There’s not much revealed about the six-minute short except what she’s said:

“This film explores what makes the unbelievable believable. When we hear a story that seems mysterious or far-fetched, we put more trust in its accuracy the longer ago it took place. As the centuries pass, the truth becomes more malleable. We grow less skeptical of what we might otherwise dismiss as incredible. Our perspective changes. This film addresses the eerie transformation of a familiar myth when displaced to the present.”

Dunst has also been quoted as taking inspiration for her film from Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. Now, Paris, Texas is one of my favorite movies, and if it’s anything like that, I’ll be shocked. If she meant that it’s stylistically inspired by Wenders, that’s another thing altogether (Wenders’ style is pretty austere and hugely cinematic), but from the initial stills that have come out for the film, it looks more like she was inspired stylistically by Lars von Trier.

Is the blurred red dot present throughout the entire length of the film? What’s the deal? Is it blood on the lens? Is it a sniper has a scope on the girl. If so, von Trier already pulled this cinematic tool of visual permanence on audiences with his film Epidemic, but at least that was just a red slogan embedded in each frame of the film. This is a fucking huge, red blob.

Now, in all fairness, I love anything artistic and thought-provoking — and especially in my movies (Begotten is on my top ten list!), but this just looks bloody annoying.