LARS VON TRIER'S KINGDOM
Outside of all these trends stood the young Lars von Trier (b. 1956), who introduced his own personal style and original universe with the trilogy The Element of Crime (1984), Epidemic (1987), and Europa ( Zentropa , 1991), which presented a flamboyant look in a postmodern style, influenced by Dreyer and Andrei Tarkovsky, of an apocalyptic Europe in the past, present, and future. Trier is also the main reason, though not the only one, that Denmark won a new position in world cinema since the mid-1990s.
It was also Trier who was behind the other important trend, Dogma 95. It started with a manifesto published by Lars von Trier with young Thomas Vinterberg (b. 1969) as co-signatory in March 1995. During the shooting of the TV serial Riget ( The Kingdom , 1994; part two, 1997), Trier realized that it was possible to ignore the normal technical standards and cinematic rules when working with a strong story and fascinating characters. He had always believed in creative development through obstructions. On this basis he came up with a set of rules that prescribe that the films should take place "here and now," that all shooting should take place on location with no added props, that there should always be direct sound, that the camera should always be hand-held, and that there should be no artificial lighting, no optical work or superficial action, and no crediting of the director! Dogma was meant as a "rescue operation," an anti-illusion and anti-Hollywood initiative, in which the director swears "to force the truth out of my characters and settings."
When all cosmetics and effects are banished, story and character are left. This method allows for the actors to develop their characters. The first Dogma 95 films—Vinterberg's Festen ( The Celebration ) and Trier's The Idiots —came out in 1998, followed by Kragh-Jacobsen's Mifunes sidste sang ( Mifune's Last Song , 1999) and Scherfig's Italiensk for begyndere ( Italian for Beginners , 2000). The first Dogma films received prizes and much international attention, especially The Celebration , an incest drama, and Idioterne ( The Idiots 1998), about a group of young people who pretend to be retarded in order to "reach their inner idiot." The Dogma films have continued to add new energy to Danish cinema, although twenty or so foreign Dogma films generally have been less interesting.
Before The Idiots Trier made his international breakthrough with Breaking the Waves (1996), a bizarre religious melodrama about a young Scottish woman who believes that her sexual martyrdom and death will make God cure her disabled husband. The miracle ending has reminiscences of Dreyer's Ordet . The film, internationally co-financed like most of his later work, was dominated by a hand-held camera style and Emily Watson's intense acting. Trier continued with the theme of the self-sacrificing woman in Dancer in the Dark (2000), in which Icelandic singer Björk, who also wrote the music, plays a Czech woman who must go to the gallows to save her son from blindness. It, too, is a simple and highly emotional fable, but also a groundbreaking experiment with the musical genre. In Dogville (2003), the first part of a projected American trilogy, Trier continued his fearless attempts to find different approaches. In this film, Grace (Nicole Kidman), who has run away from pursuers, finds shelter in a small American mountain village in 1933; first she is kindly received, but gradually there is a change of attitude and she is suppressed and abused. Contrary to the earlier Trier heroines, she fights back. A didactic and ironic fable about power and morality, the film is perhaps most striking for its Brechtian formalism, taking place on an almost bare stage with sets only outlined and dominated by a narrator's voice-over. The story about Grace continued with Manderlay (2005), in which Grace takes over an estate in the Deep South where slavery has been maintained. For Trier, an important intention behind the Dogma concept was to force himself out of routines and habits, and he continued this general method in the highly original De fem benspænd ( The Five Obstructions , 2003). Here he challenges senior colleague Jørgern Leth to remake one of his early experimental films according to Trier's whimsical instructions.
In more mainstream Danish cinema, there has been considerable national success with realistic stories about everyday life, typically about couples and infidelity, parents and children, as in Bier's Dogma film Elsker dig for evigt ( Open Hearts , 2002). Also popular have been bittersweet buddy movies that continue the typical Danish taste for stories about jovial, small-time crooks, such as Blinkende lygter ( Flickering Lights , 2000), directed by Anders Thomas Jensen (b. 1972), who won an Academy Award ® for the short Valgaften ( Election Night , 1998). In the new generation the most promising art film talent is Christoffer Boe (b. 1974), who directed the subtle drama of the eternal triangle, Reconstruction (2003), about the illusions of love and reality.