I make no secret of the fact that I don’t really like Lars von Trier. (See my entry for Antichrist.) So I was wary of watching EUROPA, one of his earlier works—and pleasantly surprised when I actually enjoyed it. The story follows an American pacifist who has decided to take work in post-WWII Germany, of all places, as a sleeping car conductor. He falls in love with the railway magnate’s daughter, and soon finds himself embroiled in violent, political events that force him into choosing a side. It’s a passable plot made exponentially more interesting with the film’s beautiful cinematography. The visuals seem borrowed straight out of classic Hollywood and then deconstructed, so that color mixes with black and white, characters interact with their projected backdrops, and the romantic railroad setting suddenly feels dirty and claustrophobic. Add to that Max von Sydow’s disembodied voice implying that the whole thing is simply a hypnotist’s suggestion, and the end result is something strange, beautiful, and—compared to other von Trier films—sort of fun.
Happy Halloween! Previous Halloween installments can be found here and here.
The 1922 silent film HÄXAN is not entirely sure what kind of movie it’s trying to be. Or rather, HÄXAN knows exactly what it’s trying to be, and it’s merely the audience that’s unprepared for it. Starting as a straightforward lecture on the belief in witchcraft in the middle ages, complete with engravings and a disembodied pointer, it soon moves on to a dramatization of medieval life. That’s still perfectly normal for a documentary. What is less normal are the dramatizations of the fictional things that witches do: a bacchanalian witches’ Sabbath, a woman cheating on her husband with the devil, nuns being possessed. And if that weren’t enough, the film gets extra grim when it goes into the undiluted events of a witch trial, including a full catalog of torture equipment and their use. One has to wonder if the director wanted his documentary to have shock value, or if he wanted to lend his horror film some academic legitimacy. And what is there to make of the fact that the director, himself, is cast as the devil? None of it is very shocking today, but it is incredibly entertaining, with great comedic timing and some gorgeous visual effects. A fun spooky way to spend your holiday.
Full disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of Lars von Trier. Of his films I’ve seen, it seems to be his goal to make me feel as miserable as possible. And the problem is, he’s usually successful. ANTICHRIST tells the story of a couple whose son falls out of a window while they’re making love. The husband, a dubious psychiatrist, suggests that they retreat into the woods to confront his wife’s grief and fears. Let’s just say things get dark from there. The filming is gorgeous with a lot of, well, memorable imagery, and Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are mesmerizing. There are things in this movie that I never expected or needed to see filmed, but that’s okay. What bothered me wasn’t the shocking violence—it was the moment when the theme changed from grief to the evil of women. I wasn’t going to do an illustration for this, but hey! Let’s draw some cute animals!