Lars von Trier and Anthony Dod Mantle share a similar, overarching artistic goal: Both are transgressive by temperament and like nothing better than venturing into uncharted cinematic territory.
"Antichrist" is perhaps the most complicated task I have ever had".
Whatever we might expect from "Antichrist", a carefully guarded production, this much seems clear: We’re in for an extraordinary visual experience, courtesy of the cinematographer who recently won an Oscar for his dizzyingly virtuosic, inventive work on Danny Boyle’s "Slumdog Millionaire".
LOST 11 KILOS
Anthony Dod Mantle, an Englishman, half Scottish, was pushing 30 in 1985 when he moved to Denmark drawn by the love of a Danish woman.
Shortly after his arrival, he was admitted to the National Film School and completed the four-year programme in cinematography. Ever since, he has been based in Denmark. In fact, the Danish film world likes to think of Dod Mantle as one of its own.
From the outset, Dod Mantle proved to be a DP who never took anything for granted and always was willing to try out new ways of doing things. An artist who is passionate about his projects, he lost 11 kilos sprinting through the slums of Mumbai when he shot "Slumdog Millionaire", all to give audiences a unique visual experience.
Not surprisingly, Dod Mantle photographed two of the first four Dogme films, Thomas Vinterberg’s "The Celebration" (1998) and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s "Mifune" (1999). The worldwide success of the Dogme films made the hand-held camera fashionable and Dod Mantle a target for his more conservative colleagues who considered the traditions of their profession to be under attack by the digital onslaught.
“People are afraid of new things and cling to methods that have been tried before,” Dod Mantle said at the time. “That’s hard for me to understand. Unpredictability is a quality we should be aiming for, after all. The cinematic language needs to be renewed!”
VON TRIER AND BOYLE
In the same interview, Dod Mantle pointed out that he in no way wanted to be pigeonholed as Mr. Dogme, and, as his subsequent development shows, his visual acumen goes far beyond that. In particular, his work with von Trier and the British director Danny Boyle ranks him among Europe’s top cinematographers.
Dod Mantle was responsible for the cinematic execution of von Trier’s radical, stylistically innovative dramas "Dogville" (2003) and "Manderlay" (2005), which were shot in nearly empty studio spaces.
His collaboration with Boyle first produced the visually remarkable "Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise" (2001), in many ways a visual study for "Slumdog Millionaire". In this more modestly conceived TV film, Dod Mantle’s extremely mobile and dynamic camera undermines the subject’s inherent social realism, creating a kind of neo-expressionism with lots of weird angles and unconventional compositions.
“It was a kind of marriage between my camera and a monstrous, larger-than-life character, a manic vacuum-cleaner salesman played by fat-man Timothy Spall, who is best known from Mike Leigh’s films,” Dod Mantle says. “So, visually I had to find the fevered salesman-energy that permeates his being.”
NOT TECHNIQUE BUT THE SPIRIT BEHIND
The next Boyle-Mantle collaboration, the science fiction drama "28 Days Later" (2002), was shot on digital video as well as super 8mm and 35mm. "Slumdog Millionaire", too, takes advantage of an unconventional technique, small cameras and an innovative DP shooting with feline grace under the worst imaginable conditions.
Even so, technical challenges are not Dod Mantle’s main concern.
“For me, it’s not the technique itself but the spirit behind a film that hooks me on a project,” he says. “It’s no coincidence that so many of the directors I’ve worked with are solidly anchored in real life and feel they have a personal truth to tell – that’s the spiritual affinity, the close collaboration, that I’m looking for.”
Working on Antichrist
FILM asked Anthony Dod Mantle a few questions about his work on "Antichrist" and his collaboration with Lars von Trier:
“On the shooting of Antichrist, I operated the camera alone, as opposed to "Dogville" and "Manderlay" where Lars and I shared the task.
“In a lengthy pre-production period the visual strategy was developed, in particular between von Trier, visual effects supervisor Peter Hjorth, and myself. Certain more elaborate sequences were then storyboarded – although, the film has a certain laissezfaire atmosphere in the more naturalistic passages.
“My general strategy is to iron out as many misunderstandings as possible in pre-production in an attempt to foresee any shortcomings. It is important that the shooting period gives space for creative thought and occasional improvisation within what can be a stressed working environment.”
SEVERAL NARRATIVE MODES
“The camera work on "Antichrist" can be broken down into several categories, each style being related to a specific narrative intention or theme. For instance, the contemporary drama sequences are, with a few exceptions, all hand-held and naturalistic by intent, whereas visualisation scenes are totally unnaturalistic and static.
“A particular body montage expressing anxiety is represented by visually degraded images of body parts. These images are actually shot deliberately on inferior ad lenses to enhance and highlight only certain areas of the frame, helping to emphasise certain body details.
“All this, together with other highly complex visual sections, has made Antichrist perhaps the most complicated task I have ever had – certainly compared to any other collaboration I have had with Lars.”
DEMANDING AND UNFORGETTABLE
“Working with Lars von Trier develops and challenges the codes and methods of filmmaking.
“On "Antichrist", we had wonderful moments to remember. We had a good pre-production period over the course of a year where we got to the bottom of what the film was about and how we should visualise it together, incorporating so many different ideas Lars had. And then the shooting was tough in many ways but we survived. If you burn for a project then this can cause conflicts and debate at any time.
“Lars can be demanding on all levels, physically and psychologically. To me, that is what makes him interesting and his films unforgettable.
“Ultimately I would say that "Antichrist" in my mind is a prima example of directorial freedom of speech. I have never known anything like this before”.