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Live from the Toronto Film Festival: The Wrap-Up

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I was waiting in line the other night at the Toronto Film Festival for a public screening to which I had a ticket, when an eager young college student standing next to me in the queue spotted my press badge and started to chat with me, using the surefire conversation starter for film festivals: "So what have you seen that you've liked?"

I reeled off a few titles, then returned the favor: "What about you?"

"I loved Antichrist," he said fervently, referring to the controversial Lars von Trier film that will be part of the upcoming New York Film Festival, which starts Sept. 25. He enthusiastically praised von Trier's use of symbolism, saying that, while he didn't necessarily understand all of it, he thought it was deep, anyway. "I couldn't figure out why the woman suddenly decided that women were evil," he said, seriously.

And then he mentioned that, during the film's provocative scenes of violence -- in which Charlotte Gainsbourg smashes Willem Dafoe's genitals with a log; impales his leg with a metal rod to which she affixes a grindstone; then performs a circumcision on herself with a scissors -- the audience at his screening was absolutely silent.

Ah, the well-mannered Canadians -- too polite to yell "Bullshit!" in a crowded theater.

Which, of course, is what Antichrist is, dressed up with pretensions of art. Von Trier's director's notes drone on about how he made the film to pull himself out of a bout of clinical depression (apparently so he can provoke one in his audience).

I saw Antichrist before I went up to Toronto and so didn't have to waste precious time on it during the festival. It will play the New York festival, have a limited American release in October and then, one assumes, disappear forever (though, unfortunately, von Trier himself won't).

I have nothing against transgressive cinema; but Antichrist has the feeling of pushing buttons for its own sake, like a child smearing its own feces on a wall. Why does he do it? Because he can and knows he shouldn't. I'm not offended by Antichrist, just bored with von Trier's act.

On the other hand, I held out high hopes for Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime, the last film I saw before heading back to New York on Tuesday. Like many of the most anticipated films at the festival, its press screening was at 9 a.m. Apparently the thinking is that being exposed to something intense or weird first thing in the day gets the blood flowing -- or perhaps it's the festival programmers' little joke on the filmmakers, as if daring them to get a fair shake from a press corps forced to ingest caffeine intravenously to keep their eyes open.

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