Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lars von Trier: Waiting for the End of the World, Nov 9-19

Beginning tonight, the TIFF Bell Lightbox will begin screening a retrospective series on the controversial Danish director Lars von Trier.

He is a contentious and highly misunderstood director, as can be seen by the whole Hitler/Nazi debacle at Cannes earlier this year which was misrepresented by much of the media. He is often accused of misogyny because his films tend to feature women protagonists and he stays away from Hollywood endings. Thus some people draw the easy conclusion that he wishes suffering on women.

Nonetheless, he is clearly a highly talented writer and director. He is able to evoke from actors some of their finest work. Actresses Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Björk won the Prix d’interpretation feminine (Best Actress Award) at Festival de Cannes for Melancholia, Antichrist and Dancer in the Dark respectively. Many other fine actresses wouldn't hesitate to work with him, while Johnny Depp told a Danish magazine, "tell von Trier I'm waiting for an offer; when he is ready, so am I."

He himself has won numerous awards including the Palme d'Or for Dancer in the Dark in 2000. He is famous for his phobias and unwillingness to travel by air. He is one of the founders of the Dogme 95 movement in Danish cinema. His only film made within the Dogme 95 constraints is The Idiots.

His latest film Melancholia is one of if not the finest film of his career. It was one of my favourites from the Toronto International Film Festival this past year. All of the selected films are definitely worth seeing though. This is an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the work of a off-kilter and dark but immensely creative and expressive artist.

The selected films being screened will be Breaking the WavesThe Element of CrimeEuropaDogvilleDancer in the DarkThe Idiots and Melancholia. They will not, however, be showing Antichrist or Manderlay among other feature films, nor his short films or television work.


Waiting for the End of the World
November 9 – 19

Our select retrospective of Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier’s key films highlights the daring unpredictability and constant evolution of this most exciting of contemporary filmmakers.

Breaking the Waves
Emily Watson gives a mesmerizing performance as a young woman who sets out to fulfill the shocking last request of her paralyzed husband in Lars von Trier's fable of faith and redemption.
Wednesday November 9, 06:30 PM

The Element of Crime
An ex-cop pursues a serial killer across a post-apocalyptic Europe in Lars von Trier's stunning debut feature.
Friday November 11, 06:30 PM

A naïve American in post-WWII Germany becomes embroiled with a group of die-hard Nazi partisans in this strikingly surreal thriller from Lars von Trier.
Saturday November 12, 08:00 PM
Thursday November 17, 09:15 PM

Nicole Kidman, James Caan, Paul Bettany and an all-star cast headline Lars von Trier's audaciously stylized allegory of American violence and intolerance.
Wednesday November 16, 06:30 PM

Dancer in the Dark
Lars von Trier
Pop music superstar Björk made her much-anticipated film debut in Lars von Trier's epically eccentric musical about a woman who transforms her grim surroundings into dreamlike fantasies.
Friday November 18, 06:00 PM

The Idiots
A group of avant-garde intellectuals seek to push the envelope on social tolerance by pretending to be mentally challenged in public in this provocative, controversial and frequently hilarious comedy from Lars von Trier.
Saturday November 19, 08:00 PM

Perhaps the most influential—and certainly the most controversial—European filmmaker to emerge in the last quarter-century, master provocateur Lars von Trier has not only changed the face of his native Danish film industry but radically altered the way people think about film internationally. Flying in the face of the Danish penchant for staunchly realist period pieces, von Trier's early features The Element of Crime, Epidemic and Europa were highly stylized and aggressively postmodernist, inflecting the European art film with elements derived from science fiction and horror movies. This unique approach, along with von Trier's self-image as perpetual enfant terrible, brought the films almost immediate acclaim, with Element and Europa both winning major prizes at the Cannes Film Festival and von Trier being celebrated as the heir to the great European auteurs.

Yet just as von Trier was coming to wide international attention in the early nineties, he opted to take a radical left turn with his outrageous and notorious Dogme 95 manifesto, which boldly targeted both the technical and narrative norms of commercial (read: American) cinema. The signatories of this "Vow of Chastity" swore to forego artificial lighting, makeup, overdubbed music, props and sets, special effects, any "superficial action" or generic conventions, and even the director's credit. Though von Trier's celebrated films Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark broke as many Dogme tenets as they followed (von Trier in fact made only one "official" Dogme film, The Idiots), they still proffered a ferocious challenge to audience's sensibilities and assumptions—and ironically brought von Trier even greater international success, with Waves winning the Grand Prix at Cannes and Dancer taking the Palme d'Or. Von Trier followed these triumphs with the first two parts of his as yet unfinished trilogy on America, Dogville and Manderlay. Sardonically undercutting the star-studded casts he assembled for these films, von Trier placed his actors on patently false stage sets, with chalk lines marking the outlines of buildings and only the barest of props and costumes-a cheekily perverse following of the Dogme "rule" which heightens the films' artificiality rather than their authenticity.

Though von Trier has been compared to such directors as Douglas Sirk, Ingmar Bergman and Carl Theodor Dreyer (whom he paid explicit homage to by filming his script for Medea), he is perhaps closest in sensibility, if not in aesthetic, to Luis Buñuel. Like the revered Spanish surrealist, von Trier both savagely mocks narrative conventions (and our addiction to them) while also depicting them as a trap which closes ineluctably on his protagonists, who are often either unaware of their disastrous circumstances or incapable of saving themselves from them. (In this, almost all of von Trier's films play like horror movies.) His highly anticipated new film, Melancholia, takes this plight to its terrifyingly logical end, as the bitter feud between two sisters (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) is mirrored in the impending collision between Earth and a rogue planet hurtling through space. This select retrospective, moving from raw realism to strikingly fabricated fantasy, showcases not only von Trier's incredible versatility and prolificacy, but also the haunting, deeply felt obsession with apocalypse—personal, societal, cosmic—that has been with him since the beginning.

—Steve Gravestock

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