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The return of film's enfant terrible

Timothy Barber
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Film<br /><strong>ANTICHRIST</strong><br />Cert: 18<br /><br />AFTER weeks of films vying to be the biggest of the year, it&rsquo;s time for the one that already has the title sewn up of most harrowing and controversial. Lars von Trier has spent years gleefully blowing raspberries in the faces of moral arbiters, but the traumatic violence he&rsquo;s constructed here is something else again entirely.<br /><br />Most of that comes near the end. First, there&rsquo;s an intriguing &ndash; if deliberately opaque &ndash; study of a couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) mourning the accidental death of their child. After a period in the city, they retreat to a sinister mountain cabin to confront their loss and fears. Here, amidst an atmosphere of lingering menace, things descend into madness that culminates in violence and mutilation of the most harrowing, repugnant kind.<br /><br />One can&rsquo;t deny Von Trier&rsquo;s ability to conjure mood through imagery &ndash; eschewing his previously stripped-back techniques, he&rsquo;s created some really sumptuous visuals here. If nothing else, this is a trip &ndash; in both meanings of the word. There&rsquo;s all kinds of eerie asides, suggestions of supernatural nastiness, sexual digression and arcane imagery that von Trier builds into the film, and one can take or leave these for meaning and symbolism. It&rsquo;s easy, and tempting, to dismiss this as a pretentious, nasty indulgence &ndash; it undoubtedly is &ndash; but there&rsquo;s still a dark artistry behind the weirdness Von Trier weaves. It&rsquo;s certainly not for the fainthearted. <br /><br />Theatre<br /><strong>TROILUS &amp; CRESSIDA</strong><br />Shakespeare&rsquo;s Globe<br /><br />SHAKESPEARE&rsquo;S play about the Trojan War has always been difficult to pin down, not least because it lacks a central character. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, the unlucky lovers of the title are really only a part of an epic that takes in the two sides of the war itself, and the vacillating generals who make merry with their opposite numbers while deciding how best to dispatch them. <br /><br />If it&rsquo;s a play that lacks focus, I&rsquo;m not sure turning it into an end-of-the-pier farce is the solution. But that seems to be what director Matthew Dunster has hit on, at least for the first half, in which Matthew Kelly&rsquo;s (yes, that one) ultra-camp Pandarus sings a daft song about love while Paris and Helen link arms with a bevy of servant boys and skip merrily across the stage. Laura Pyper plays Cressida as the kind of bawdy, northern lass one can imagine downing WKDs in a Yates Wine Lodge, while Paul Stocker&rsquo;s Troilus is more surf-dude than Trojan prince. And for a long time, not very much happens.<br /><br />The play shakes off its torpor slightly in the second half in order to get on with some (rather unconvincing) fighting, but this is a strange production that fogs the text rather more than it clarifies. It tells us little about the madness and pointlessness of war, and is simply too uninvolving to engage with. Furthermore, you really couldn&rsquo;t believe Trystan Gravelle&rsquo;s Achilles &ndash; a kohl-eyed Russel Brand-alike, by way of the Welsh valleys &ndash; could fight his way out of an empty room.<br /><br /><strong>THE BLACK ALBUM</strong><br />National Theatre, Cottesloe<br /><br />FURTHER proof, for those who haven&rsquo;t reached this conclusion already, that Hanif Kureishi is a far greater novelist and screenwriter than he is a playwright. Kureishi&rsquo;s 1995 novel is a sparky, fast-paced and intelligent book about a young Muslim student from Sevenoaks who lands in London on the brink of Rushdie&rsquo;s fatwa. As a play, however, it is ill-judged and at times dull, with very little interesting to say.<br /><br />The problems are in both Kureishi&rsquo;s writing and Jatinda Verma&rsquo;s woeful production. Presumably, Kureishi thought the time was right to bring Islamic fundamentalism back to the stage, but raising the issues is not enough without real tension or fresh ideas, none of which are evident.<br /><br />The cast are clearly a talented bunch, but their characters are sketchily written and badly directed. The lead, Shahid, played by Jonathan Bonnici, is simply too bland to earn real sympathy, while those around him seem like caricatures &ndash; the idealistic teacher, overbearing aunt, and charismatic brother are barely fleshed-out. <br /><br />The heavy-handed attempts to remind us that this was the 80s are little more than a hit-list of markers &ndash; Thatcher, ecstasy, pop music (if Kurieshi can&rsquo;t mention Bowie in a play, he&rsquo;ll always fall back on Prince).<br /><br />Unfortunately, The Black Album turns out to be a rather pointless exercise, and at well over two hours, a desperately tedious one. Catrin Rogers