We made a small guide to get you started in the wonderful and disturbing universe of the Danish through his best films, is your favorite?
Who is he: A survey conducted by the Guardian Arts Diary in 2009 asked if Lars von Trier was a genius or a fraud. The result was 60.3% for the first option, and 39.7% for the second. Like all born provocateurs, the Danish director is loved and hated in (almost) equal parts. The truth is that since his career began to gain visibility in the 90s, he has shown his ability to reinvent himself and transgress the limits of cinematographic art. His cinema is brave and revolutionary, and it imposes its own rules, his own logic. Off-screen he has been branded as a misogynist (although he has gifted us some great ‘heroines’ of contemporary cinema) and also as a fascist (don’t miss the moment when he confesses to understand Adolf Hitler and that caused him to be declared’ persona non grata ‘at the Cannes Film Festival). He has messed with the Danish prime minister, with the US president, with Roman Polanski, with Nicolas Winding Refn and basically every living thing that crossed his path. Difficult to define the person of him in these few lines.
Identity signs: The Danish filmmaker has turned his films into a refuge for his own needs and phobias, as he himself has admitted on more than one occasion. Psychoanalysis and personal trauma hover over his entire work with one goal: to make the viewer uncomfortable, intellectually and emotionally. Create an impact. Beyond this, it is difficult to establish specific signs, because each of his films is unique.
Philosophy: Although they would soon disobey some of his norms, it is necessary to point out here the movement that Trier and fellow filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg founded in 1995: the Dogma95. Vinterberg explained it as a way to put a mirror in front of the film industry and make them see that films could be made in a different way. “We asked ourselves what we hated most about cinema today, and then we wrote a list banning all of those things,” he once declared. This need to impact, to revolutionize contemporary cinema, is a pillar of Lars von Trier’s philosophy as a filmmaker.
A famous phrase? From the director: “I’m not against Jews. Not even Susanne Bier.”
A phrase that you can say in front of moviegoers: “Although he never fully complied with the standards of his Dogma95, Lars von Trier has always kept his message intact: the vindication of a different, risky and artistic cinema”.
A phrase that you CANNOT say in front of moviegoers: “Actually, behind all this psychoanalytic roll, there is nothing.”
A memorable scene: The prologue to ‘Antichrist’. One of the most brilliant scenes in contemporary cinema … or perhaps in all of history.
5 MOVIES TO MEET LARS VON TRIER
- ‘Breaking the waves’ (1996): This film marked a before and after in the career of Lars von Trier. The simplicity of the story (he himself acknowledged that years ago he would never have imagined making a love story) and the management of his references (from Bergman to Dreyer) made up a film as fascinating as it was unique at the time. The ironic game between religiosity and eroticism of its main character, played by a magnificent Emily Watson, is fascinating. He won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year, although it would be four years later, with the also recommended ‘Dancing in the dark’ (2000) when he would win the Palme d’Or.
- ‘Dogville’ (2003): Can you imagine a film without a stage, set in a town without walls or doors or hardly any objects? So is this movie starring Nicole Kidman, in which she plays a stranger who arrives in a small town called Dogville. She there she asks for shelter, because she is being chased by gangsters, and although the inhabitants of her show her kindness by welcoming her, they will soon begin to ask her for more and more until they treat her like a servant. Lars von Trier puts the concept of solidarity to the test in this unique film and heir to the theater scene. You have never seen anything like this.
- ‘Antichrist’ (2009): This film has such a level of intensity and harshness that it can traumatize more than one viewer. It is no wonder: it tells of the mourning of a couple after the death of their young son, who in the first scene (the one we have selected above as a memorable scene) jumps from a window. He (Willem Dafoe), a temperate psychologist, and she (Charlotte Gainsbourg), unable to control her pain, star in a real tour de force in which it seems that there can only be one left. The brutality of the emotions and the hidden readings of many of its elements make it a fascinating experience. It needs more than one viewing, that’s for sure.
- ‘Melancolía’ (2011): It is perhaps in this film that the most shocking and unforgettable images of Lars von Trier are treasured. Some, like the one you can see above, are authentic postcards loaded with meaning. Science fiction merges with the existentialism of the Danish to tell a story about depression, about accepting tragedy and living with the extraordinary. Kirsten Dunst, who won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, plays an unforgettable heroine (in the most unconventional sense of the word) in this hypnotic film.
- ‘Nymphomaniac’ (2013): Made up of two parts released in the same year, the most recent of Lars von Trier’s films could not be more Lars von Trier. And yet, it exhibits like never before a taste for formality and a willingness to innovate over and over again throughout its four-hour duration. Sex, and his obsession with it, is the central element of this film that tiptoes the border between conventional cinema and pornography, if such a border exists. In the year of its premiere it did not go far from unnoticed, but, far from being considered a marketing product, this film is a true work of art, justified by memorable moments such as the symphony that he composes with three lovers of Joe (Gainsbourg) exposed on a screen split in three.