Close Up

11 - 26 August 2023: Close-Up on Lars von Trier


Danish enfant terrible, Lars von Trier became a cinematic Martin Luther in 1995, the year of the medium’s centenary, when he issued a radical denunciation of film’s bad faith and decadence. His Dogme 95 contained eleven commandments (including prohibitions against genre films, artificial lighting, and the widescreen format) and invited artists of good faith to accept a “vow of chastity.” In a career spanning 40 years, von Trier has aroused many passions, gnashed many teeth, and offended much modesty and remains one of the most celebrated, hotly debated, and artistically challenging figures in contemporary cinema.


Breaking the Waves
Lars von Trier, 1996, 159 min

In a remote northern Scottish village in the early 1970s, Bess, a young and trusting girl who is “not quite right in the head,” meets resistance from her close-knit community for her decision to marry a North-Sea oil-rig worker. A heart-wrenching study of faith, innocence, cruelty, and the crushing mores of religion, Breaking the Waves received the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and launched the career of Emily Watson, who delivers an extraordinary debut performance.


The Idiots
Lars von Trier, 1998, 117 min

The Idiots is set in a Danish commune in which the members engage in acts of “spassing” (feigning mental and physical disabilities in public settings) to confront the hypocrisies of bourgeois society. The “good woman” in this instance is Karen, an introverted newcomer to the group with a dark secret. Although he had employed many of the techniques put forth in the Dogme 95 manifesto both before and after this film’s release, The Idiots is the only film the director produced under the movement’s collective banner.


Lars von Trier, 2003, 178 min

In the fictitious rural American town of Dogville, a mysterious woman arrives seeking shelter from her troubled past. She agrees to work for the townspeople in exchange for protection from a band of gangsters pursuing her. As the threat becomes imminent, the townspeople modify their arrangement with potentially fatal consequences. Never a stranger to Brechtian formal experimentation, von Trier employed a uniquely designed black-box set for the town with virtually no facades or building structures and further heightened the work’s theatricality by relying upon an unseen male narrator.


Lars von Trier, 2009, 108 min

“In this graphic psychodrama, a grief-stricken man and woman – a searing Willem Dafoe and Cannes best actress winner Charlotte Gainsbourg – retreat to their cabin deep in the woods after the accidental death of their infant son, only to find terror and violence at the hands of nature and, ultimately, each other. But this most confrontational work yet from one of contemporary cinema’s most controversial artists is no mere provocation. It is a visually sublime, emotionally ravaging journey to the darkest corners of the possessed human mind; a disturbing battle of the sexes that pits rational psychology against age-old superstition; and a profoundly effective horror film.” – Janus Films


Lars von Trier, 2011, 135 min

The possibilities for ecological apocalypse extend beyond the bounds of even our own solar system in Lars von Trier’s cosmic-view diptych drama, which begins with a wedding party gone awry and ends in the shadow of an incoming extinction-level event. Shot through from beginning to end with a profound feeling for what it is to live in the grips of depression, as Kirsten Dunst’s baleful bride predicts forthcoming catastrophe, telling her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg): “The Earth is evil, we don’t need to grieve for it. Nobody will miss it.” Von Trier has created a disaster film for the ages, both immeasurably sad and beautiful.