Today: February 21, 2024

Weird & Wonderful Lars Von Trier

When you hear the name Lars Von Trier what comes to mind? It could be anything from those controversial comments made at Cannes earlier in the year, to images of violence and genital mutilation to, quite simply, exciting experimental cinema.

When you
hear the name Lars Von Trier what comes to mind? It could be anything from those
controversial comments made at Cannes earlier in the year, to images of
violence and genital mutilation to, quite simply, exciting experimental cinema.
Von Trier has carved his career out by splitting critic’s and audience’s opinions
and shocking them with his unusual techniques and dark subject matter.

His new
film, Melancholia, starring Kirsten Dunst and Von Trier favourite Charlotte Gainsbourg, hits UK cinemas on Friday, 30 Sept.
Melancholia promises to be as off the wall as all Trier’s previous work –
although, as usual, he has firmly divided critics. We take a look at the
extremely weird but wonderful work of a truly unique director.


the basis and core idea behind his life’s work can be found in his connection
to the Dogme 95 manifesto. In 1995 Trier and Thomas Vinterberg created the
Dogme 95 cinematic movement based around certain made-up rules put in
place in order to create a filmmaking process based on the traditional values
of story-telling, acting and themes that, among other things, excluded the use
of elaborate special effects or technology. The most famous Von Trier film to
be borne of the Dogme 95 collective was The Idiots. Complying to the rules of
Dogme 95 it was filmed on location using no props or special lighting.

As much as The Idiots’
attachment to the Dogme 95 movement brought attention to the film, so did its
subject matter. Trier’s film is about a group of anti-bourgeois adults who
spend their time pretending to be ‘idiots’ or mentally impaired in order to wreak
havoc in polite society. The
Idiots’ courted controversy further by featuring an unapologetic full-on
erection and a couple – faces unseen – having un-simulated, real sex on screen,
but for only a few seconds.

Despite this high profile
film, Von Trier’s Dogme 95 was not particularly successful in technical terms –
he himself admits to breaking some of the Dogme 95 rules in The Idiots –but it sufficed
in shining a spotlight on Danish cinema and The Idiots inspired several films
such as Baise-moi and 9 songs, both of which feature un-simulated sex.



Trier had
a successful relationship with the prestigious Cannes festival until this year when
he courted controversy by joking that he is a Nazi and can ‘understand Hitler’.
The festival consequently quickly announced him “persona non grata”. Trier then
went on to issue an apology for his strange remarks but has since retracted
this apology stating that: “To say I’m
sorry for what I said is to say I’m sorry for what kind of a person I am, [and
that] I’m sorry for my morals, and that would destroy me as a person.”

11 years ago to 2000 and Trier was given a very different reception at Cannes.
His then new film, Dancer in the Dark, starring the equally eccentric Bjork as a Czech
immigrant who moved to the US with her son, was shown at the festival
and received a standing ovation.
It then went on to be awarded the Palme d’Or, along with the best
actress award for Bjork.

Dancer in
the Dark shows Von Trier had moved on from Dogme 95, but not forgotten its
grass roots idealism about filmmaking. In fact, it was part of his “Golden
Heart” Dogme 95 related trilogy, the others being The Idiots and Braking Waves.
Dancer in the Dark was filmed primarily by a hand held camera, which alludes to
the Dogme 95 manifesto, but it is actually a musical. The musical sequences were reportedly filmed using over 100
digital cameras to enable him to capture every single angle. He also uses
heightened colour to differentiate these sequences from the rest of the film.
In true Von Trier style Dancer in the Dark was both loved and hated by the
critics – but one thing they mostly agreed on was that it disintegrates many
conventions used by filmmakers, especially in Hollywood musicals, creating
something truly different and unique.


and Cinema

years later Trier tore up the Hollywood filmmaking guide once again with
Dogsville, although he did manage to sign up a Hollywood all star cast with the
likes of Nicole Kidman in the lead role, Lauren Bacall and Paul Bettany. Dogville is a parable shot on a
very minimal stage-like set about a woman (Kidman) who hides from mobsters in a
small mountain town called Dogville. In exchange for their refuge she must
please each town member and partake in hard graft. Dogville’s sequel used much
the same techniques with some of the stars returning in different roles. This
time the principle character grace tries to transform and educate a town she
stumbles across who still practice slavery. As in many Trier films, the idealistic main
character becomes frustrated by the reality he or she encounters but fails to
remedy these situations or come to a positive conclusion. Both
films divided critics once again, with many unconvinced by Trier choice of a
stage-like set, saying it added nothing to the film. In general some saw both
films as a platform to drag his viewers into an uncomfortable discussion, while
others viewed them as films full of interesting ideas.


Battling Depression

Trier has
spoken very publically about his battle with depression and it is perhaps this
aspect of his personal life that has penetrated through his films. In 2007 he
announced he feared he would never complete his 2009 release, Antichrist,
because he was suffering from debilitating depression. It can be said that remnants
of Trier’s depression leaked through to the film, which has a very bleak
subject matter to start with. It is about a couple who retreat to the woods
after the death of their child. The husband, played by William Dafoe and known only as He, suffers
strange visions, while his wife, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg known only as She, begins to act
out increasingly violent sexual behaviour.

The film
divided critics once again. This is partly due to some scenes of extreme sexual
violence, such as genital mutilation. These were acted by body doubles and professional
porn actors, Horst Stramka and Mandy Starship, to avoid Dafoe and Gainsbourg
any blushes.


Whether Antichrist is an
insight into Trier’s darkest moments of suffering from depression is unknown,
but it definitively hints at a director who is quite obviously sometimes
trapped in his own head suffering the deepest, darkest sense of turmoil. His
latest offering, Melancholia, is more obviously about depression. Lead
character, Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst is a manic depressive. When the
world is threatening to come to an end she welcomes the abyss with clam, while
her long suffering sister fears it. Melancholia isn’t expected to be quite so
graphic as Antichrist, but in true Trier style it does show him attempting
another genre while transferring some of his own morbid methodology onto the
screen. It’s no surprise, as already mentioned, critics are also divided about
this one, too.


Agent Provocateur

It is
obvious Trier is intent on making his way through every genre, putting his own
– some may say warped, others genius – stamp on them. Does it show courage and
creativity or a blind naivety and indifference to base a directing career on
shocking people and splitting opinions? That is up for the audience to decide,
and that is the point of Trier’s films; although he has undoubtedly a very
clear direction or emphasis in his own head, his films are extremely
subjective. Audiences will drag themselves down to the cinema to watch a Trier
film regardless of whether Peter Bradshaw gives it one or five stars – people
are simply intrigued. Trier’s films offer a brutal alternative to tried and
tested film techniques and narratives, and different people will take away
entirely different things from them. At the very least he is one director who
is entirely concerned with confronting and shaking his audience and he manages
to do so time and time again. For that he is owed some serious kudos.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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