WHO is he?

Danish-born provocateur extraordinaire who has been writing, producing and directing feature length films since the Eighties, although he had started making short films when he was a teenager. He was one of the spearheads of the Dogme 95 film movement and founded the production house Zentropa Entertainment. Von Trier has been nominated for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival nine times and won it once for Dancer in the Dark in 2000.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

The films of what is known as Von Trier’s Golden Heart Trilogy — Breaking the Waves (1996), The Idiots (1998) and Dancer in the Dark (2000) — function as caustic portraits of a prejudiced, xenophobic society that is intolerant towards social and ethnic outsiders. This cynicism snowballs into full scale misanthropy in his subsequent film Dogville (2003), in which happenings in a modest American town become demonstrative of the inexhaustible cruelty and tyranny that humanity is capable of, given the right kind of circumstances.

Style

Von Trier’s films from the 90s, more or less, stick to the stylistic guidelines laid down by the Dogme movement — handheld colour cinematography with natural lighting in actual locations, abstinence from musical score, direct sound, undramatic writing, absence of voiceover, a profusion of jarring edits and a naturalistic acting style — while his later films take a U-turn and draw inspiration from Brecht’s theories of the theatre and the genre films of studio-era Hollywood.

WHY is he of interest?

Love him, hate him, but you can’t ignore him. Lars von Trier is the proverbial elephant in the room as far as the contemporary world film scene is concerned. No international premiere of his film seems complete without some sort of controversy or the other. While a cross section of cinephiles and critics considers his cinematic and personal vision brutally honest, bold and terrifying, many others find his provocations to be empty and his outlook conveniently bleak and narrow.

WHERE to discover him?

Dancer in the Dark, starring singer Björk as a Czech immigrant, is a forceful critique of capital punishment set in 1960s America. Von Trier’s film marries two genres — musical and drama — and seeks to continually disturb the tone of the narrative so that the audience doesn’t surrender itself blindly to the emotions and, instead, reflects on the issues raised.

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