Lars von Trier - Director

Nationality: Danish. Born: Lars Trier, Lyngby, 30 April 1956. Education: Studied Film Science at the University of Copenhagen, 1976–1979; Danish Film School (director), 1979–82. Family: Married 1) Cæcilia Holbek,1987 (divorced 1995); 2 children; 2) Bente Frøge (1997), twins. Career: With Niels Vørsel, established Element Film, 1986; established Element Film ApS, 1990; with Peter Aalbæk Jensen, established Zentropa Entertainments, 1992. Awards: Cannes International Film Festival Grand Prix de Technique, Danish Film Critics Award (Bodil) for Best Danish Feature Film, Danish Film Academy Award (Robert) for Best Danish Feature Film, and Mannheim International Film Festival Joseph von Sternberg-Preis, for Element of Crime , 1984; Cannes International Film Festival Special Prize of the Jury and Prix de la Commission Supérieure Technique, Bodil Award for Best Danish Feature Film, Robert Award for Best Danish Feature Film, Ghent Flanders International Film Festival First Prize, and Sydney Film Festival Award for Best Film, for Europa , 1992; Kjell Abel Award (Denmark), 1993; Ingmar Bergman travel grant (Denmark), 1994; Bodil Award for Best Danish Feature Film, for The Kingdom , 1995; Arthur Köpckes honorary award (Denmark), 1995; Cannes International Film Festival Grand Prix, Bodil Award for Best Danish Feature Film, Robert Award for Best Danish Feature Film, Carl Th. Dreyer Award (Denmark), Berlin European Film Academy Award for European Film of the Year, FIPRESCI Award, International Critics Award, Edinburgh International Film Festival Critics Award, New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director, International Society of Film Critics Awards for Best Film and Best Director, all 1996, César Award for Best Foreign Film, and Swedis Film Institute (Guldbagge) Award for Best Foreign Film, both 1997, all for Breaking the Waves ; London Film Festival Award, FIPRESCI Award, and International Critics Award, for The Idiots , 1998; Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or, for Dancer in the Dark ,

Lars von Trier
Lars von Trier
2000. Office: Zentropa Productions, Ryesgade 106 A, 4th Floor, 2100 Copenhagen OE, Denmark.

Films as Director


Orchidégartneren (+ ph, sc, ed, ro as Victor Morse)


Menthe—la bienheureuse ( Mynte—den lyksalige ) (+ pr, sc, ph, ed, ro as the driver)


Nocturne (+ sc)


Befrielsesbilleder (afgangsfilm fra Filmskolen) (+ co-sc)


Forbrydelsens element ( The Element of Crime ) (+ co-sc, ro as Schmuck of Ages)


Medea (for TV) (+ co-sc); Epidemic (+ co-sc, co-ph, co-ed, ro)


Europa (+ co-sc, ro as Jew)


Lærerværelset (for TV); Riget ( The Kingdom 1–4 ) (mini-series—for TV) (+ co-sc, ro as himself)


Breaking the Waves (+ sc)


Riget II ( The Kingdom 5–8 ) (mini-series—for TV) (+ co-sc, ro as himself)


Idioterne ( The Idiots ) (+ sc, ph, ro as interviewer)


D-dag (three parts—for TV) (co-d with Thomas Vinterberg, Søren Kragh Jacobsen, and Christian Levring; ro as himself)


Dancer in the Dark (+ sc, ph, lyrics)

Other Films:


Kaptajn Klyde og hans venner vender tilbage (Holst and Klein) (ro)


En Verden til forskel (Magnusson) (ro as Taxachauffor)


De Udstillede (Jargil) (co-sc)


By von TRIER: books—

Riget (script), Aschehoug, 1995.

Breaking the Waves (script and director's note), Per Kofod, 1996.

With Mogens Rukow, Idioterne (script and LvT diary), Gyldendal, 1999.

By von TRIER: articles—

"Om Carl Th. Dreyer," in Kosmorama , no. 187, Spring 1989.

With Thomas Vinterberg, "The Vow of Chastity" (manifesto), Dogme 95, , signed 13 March 1995..

On von TRIER: books—

Jensen, Klaus Bruhn, Jan Stjerne, and Palle Schantz Lauridsen, editors, Lars von Trier: Sekvens—Filmvidenskabelig årbog , København, 1991.

Bono, Francesco, editor, Dansk Film , Rome, 1993.

Schepelern, Peter, Lars von Triers elementer: en filminstruktørs arbejde , København, 1997.

Forst, Achim, Breaking the Dreams: Das Kino des Lars von Trier , Marburg, Germany, 1998.

Björkman, Stig, Trier om von Trier , Stockholm, 1999.

On von TRIER: articles—

Jousse, Thierry, and Fredéric Strauss, "Entretien avec Lars von Trier," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 449, 1991.

Trapper, Michael, "Den europeiske (mar)drömmen," in Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 2, 1991.

Kornum Larsen, Jan, "Samtale med Lars von Trier," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), no. 167, 1991.

Nørgaard, Lene, "Lars von Trier: en europæisk filmmager," in Stil på Strimler , edited by Lone Erritzøe, Amanda, 1992.

Christensen, Ove, and Claus K. Christensen, "Porten til Riget," in Ind i filmen , edited by Eva Jørholt, Medusa, 1995.

Hampton, Howard, "Wetlands," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1995.

Pryds, Henning, "Medea: et tv-æstetisk eksperiment," in Sekvens: filmvidenskabelig årbog , 1995.

Bouquet, Stéphane, and Vincent Ostria, "Les thérapies de Lars von Trier," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 493, 1995.

Schepelern, Peter, "Kunstens element," in Dansk film 1972–97 , edited by Ib Bondebjerg, Jesper Andersen, and Peter Schepelern, Stockholm, 1997.

Andersen, Jesper, "I lommerne på Europa," In Dansk film 1972–97 , edited by Ib Bondebjerg, Jesper Andersen, and Peter Schepelern, Stockholm, 1997.

Schepelern, Peter, "Ånden i myretuen and D Dag, dogme og dødsforagt," in FILM , no. 7, February 2000.

On von TRIER: films—

Kolodziejski, Kris M., director, Ennenstadt Europa: Om Lars von Trier og "Element of Crime, " 1984.

Buchardt, Nikolaj, director, Triers element (doc—for TV), undated.

Howitz, Frantz, director, Portræt af Lars von Trier (doc—for TV), 1991.

Binzer, Camilla Hammerich, director, I Lars von Triers Kingdom: en mand og hans tv-serie (doc—for TV), 1994.

Björkman, Stig, director, Tranceformer, an Obsession (doc) 1994.

Jargil, Jesper, director, De ydmygede ( The Making of The Idiots ), 1998.

Jargil, Jesper, director, De udstillede (doc) 1999.

* * *

"My greatest problem in life is control contra chaos. I have an insane dread of not having control when I want it." With these words Lars von Trier pinpoints a central dilemma in and behind his art. But, one must add, it is a dilemma that has proved particularly artistically fruitful for von Trier. If there is one recurrent feature characteristic of his wide range of productions, it is the consistency whereby they are directed by predefined rules within the governing framework of which chaos may be unleashed. The rules provide a sense of security and control and yet may be so open that chaos can be created. Just as typical are his deliberately serious, yet ironic references to the history of film and the arts. In a typical postmodernistic way, genres, stylistic features, and themes from this history are to be found repeatedly throughout his work, but in personal interpretations and variations where his ambition is not only to make reference, but also to extend the film language he regards as conservative and limited, governed by commercial interests. Von Trier has succeeded like few others in pursuing his experimental, avant-garde intentions for cinema as an art while reaching a wide audience and creating what certainly looks like commercial success.

Von Trier has publicly stated what a shocking discovery it was for him when his mother told him on her deathbed that the man he had called his father all his life was not his biological father, but that his mother had deliberately chosen another donor presumed to possess artistic genes who could contribute to the production of the child she wanted. Since his adolescense Lars von Trier has been settling up with his middle-class home and its artistic and political pretensions. He benefited throughout childhood from his parents' liberal approach to child raising, one result of which was that he left school in the 6th grade because he couldn't accept discipline and already suffered from all kinds of phobias. Appointments with various psychologists resulted in his being taught at home, where from the age of ten he lived a life of his own, a life which included making 8 mm films. His settling of accounts also applied to the cultural values his home represented, and from childhood he cultivated everything his parents repudiated: the sentimental, the kitsch, bathetic children's books, cartoon comics, etc. This culminated when he bought the rights to the collected works of Morten Korch via Zentropa—a series of low-brow novels which had been filmed between 1950 and the late 1960s to the unmitigated delight of Danish cinema-goers and the just as unmitigated disgust of the critics. The self-appointed arbiters of taste deemed Korch to be the ultimate in kitsch: sentimental, distorted art to seduce the masses, which Zentropa has so far turned into a twenty-six part television series and a feature film.

Even in his graduation project for the National Film School of Denmark the director demonstrated his talent to provoke and go against the flow, by portraying a German Wehrmacht soldier with the pathos of martyrdom. It is a thoroughly politically incorrect film, but it was also noticed for its ambition and its artistic courage, with Andrei Tarkovsky as an obvious source of inspiration. Immediately after that, von Trier was able to embark on his first feature, Element of Crime , intended as the introduction to a Europa trilogy to be completed with Epidemic and Europa. Each film has its set of rules—color scheme, budget and the metafilm element, and the use of front projection and black and white with a single color, respectively. Hypnosis plays a major role in portraying an apocalyptic Europe shown with the visual features and themes of fascism. The film drew critical acclaim and international attention, but the director only reached larger audiences with his television series, The Kingdom I and II , which Trier himself called his pot-boilers. This does not mean the surrender of artistic integrity. The series may have been inspired by the endless hospital soaps, but also by David Lynch's Twin Peaks , with its similar degree of stylistic awareness. Von Trier went further; he not only shot the entire series with whatever light there was, hand-held cameras, and a mobility drawn from television series such as NYPD Blue and Homicide , but also broke a number of the fundamental principles of film narrative by editing without regard for the general rules for camera angles, optical axes, and the use of edits in otherwise continual shots. With Morten Arnfred as assistant director, more effort went into directing the cast than in previous Trier works.

Before that, the director had launched yet another project with its own very special rules. Dimension is a film for which three minutes would be shot every year for thirty years (1991 to 2022), with its premiere on April 30, 2024, when von Trier will be 68. There is no script, but a synopsis mentions a poetic gangster story "which will take us around Europe and be acted out and among events and flash points." Equally radical in its concept was the exhibition Psychomobile ν mI: The World Clock , which took place in 1996 at the Art Society Building in Copenhagen. The exhibition was a mixture not only of genres but of art forms such as installation and performance. The concept was to have a number of fictitious characters develop by improvisation but according to a set of predetermined rules. Fifty-three people were put into play in the nineteen rooms of the Art Society. The fifty-three circulated among the rooms and not only entered into new groupings, but also new mental relationships and dramatic conflicts, all determined by the ants in an ant heap in New Mexico. The ant heap was monitored by video, the images transmitted to Copenhagen by satellite, and the movements of the ants from zone to zone sparked changes in each actor's position in the rooms, signalled by colored lights, and changes to their mental states. Based on their predefined characteristics the actors improvised a story for three hours a day, for fifty days. An endless piece of fiction and a fascinating experience, it was documented in Jesper Jargil's film The Exhibited. Another project conceived and carried out by the "Dogme brethren"—a group of four directors whose manifest, "The Vow of Charity," offered a radical approach to filmmaking—clearly bore von Trier's imprint and seems to be an extension of the World Clock. It was performed live on New Year's Eve 1999 in Copenhagen. Four characters moved around the city, each under the remote control of the four Dogme directors, each followed by his own film unit, and each furnished with his own story, which comes together in a bank heist. The following day the four plots were transmitted on four different TV channels, with a fifth showing the directors at work in the remote control suite, and a sixth showing all screens simultaneously. In true zapper style viewers could create their own versions of the story by changing channels at any time. It was more exciting as a concept and experiment than as a complete work, but it was imbued with von Trier's sense of rules and the interplay between chaos and control.

Before these projects, von Trier's most convincing feature film appeared. Breaking the Waves continued the hand-held technique familiar from The Kingdom , but this time in feature film—and CinemaScope—format. It was a project conceived as a melodrama and clearly based on the most melodramatic foundations imaginable, a kind of primordial melodrama about true love and the self-sacrificing woman. In Dancer in the Dark love between man and woman gives way to love between mother and son, incorporated into a musical in which the road to the scaffold is paved with musical numbers.

The control and chaos syndrome clearly emerges in The Idiots , perhaps the director's most radical, personal film to date, in which the rules not only determine the conception of the film but that of the characters. They, too, have drawn up rules to test their limits in a film shaped like a project that has gone off the rails, and in which the director, with von Trier's own voice, attempts to bring order to the chaos by trying to uncover just what went wrong. But here, too, the director is in full control of the effects utilized in miming the dreaded chaos staged, as the credits say with an ironic tongue-in-cheek, by . . . .

—Dan Nissen

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: