'Antichrist' cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle: interview

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The Oscar-garlanded cinematographer talks to Time Out about the challenges of working with Lars von Trier on his controversial new film 'Antichrist'

Initially a stills photographer (who even shot some pics for this very magazine), Oxfordshire-born Anthony Dod Mantle studied cinematography at the Danish National Film School and came to prominence via the groundbreaking digital camerawork in Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘Festen’. He has since been a pioneer of the creative use of digital technology and has worked with Lars von Trier, Kevin MacDonald and Danny Boyle. This year he won a cinematography Oscar for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. His latest film is von Trier’s controversial ‘Antichrist’.

You’ve accepted some challenging projects in your time. Where would ‘Antichrist’ fit in?
‘“Slumdog” was technically and physically demanding; I lost 11kg doing all the camera operating. It was also mentally gobsmacking because you were there in the slums of India. But “Antichrist”, in all its seeming simplicity, is one of the most technically demanding films I’ve done. Lars has a way of finding complex solutions for things, so there’s really a lot going on.’

The black-and-white section at the start is extraordinary. We can see the raindrops…
‘That’s real. We shot with a high-speed camera, running between 600 and 1,000 frames per second. I’m pretty sure it was Lars’s intention to make that contrast between the roving physicality of the rest of the film and the amazing stillness you get when you use a high speed. What you’re seeing is slowed down so much that for the first time in the cinema I had the sense of watching a film in the way that I look at a painting.’

Later on, though, the journey takes us to a dark place when we venture into the woods with the couple. How did you find the visual mood to match?
‘When Charlotte’s character visualises the place she’s going to go back to, where her deep anxieties are rooted, the images were broken up into several layers, like a painting. I dislocated the cohesion by pointing the lights in different directions and by changing camera speeds, not just within the shot but within certain areas of the image. That creates a lack of logic which makes your brain perceive differently, and that’s a major part of the potential disturbance the viewers visit in the film. It’s not just about the graphics or the content, it’s also about the language of the film.’

Still, given the extreme nature of the material, the sense of physicality had to be powerful and compelling. Did that make for a tough shoot?
‘Yes, in those eight weeks I experienced everything on set from joy and, yes, amazement to depression, frustration and loneliness. Also, the sort of feeling you can’t quite put a word on. It was a strange space. Very intimate and intense, but there were also moments of beauty when we were touching on things that were almost apocalyptic. Some of the images do transcend the stuff we’ve done before, however, and we’re very pleased with that.’

How did von Trier’s depression affect the work?
‘There’ve been other films, like “Breaking the Waves” or “Dancer in the Dark”, where Lars’s sense of humour has been counteractive. There was less of that here, because he was away from set a lot and suffering. He didn’t operate the camera, and that must have affected him because as an author you want to control everything. But he maintains this film saved his life, so in that respect it was an important film to make.’

And what was your reaction to the finished film?
‘We had a screening in Copenhagen for film buffs and a lot of people came out really disturbed. I’m ambivalent about that. It’s a hard one. What is good is that the film can, for good or ill, split people right down the middle.’

Author: Trevor Johnston



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