Where do you even begin picking five great moments in Lars von Trier’s impressive back catalogue? The man’s every celluloid move is as bizarre as Björk showing up at the Oscars dressed like a swan – an event which, arguably, only happened because of Lars von Trier.
To celebrate the BFI’s season of the Danish controversialist’s movies in London next month – where you can relive some of cinema’s most uncomfortable moments just as we imagine von Trier would wish; in close proximity to strangers in a darkened room – we’ve picked out our Top 5 von Trier moments…
Bess prays in Breaking the Waves
Emily Watson set the standard for The Suffering von Trier Female in this tale of a Norwegian oil-rig worker and his sweet-seeming Scottish bride, Bess. “Seeming”, of course, being the operative word— because once we have witnessed Bess praying to God in church, and then answering herself in His voice, we know that she is not right in the head. And, this being a von Trier film, probably doomed.
Karen eats with her family in The Idiots
In 1998, von Trier decided it was about time he got even more controversial. So after co-founding the Dogme movement, a manifesto that called for raw, uncluttered film-making, he made a film about a bunch of people pretending to be mentally and physically handicapped in order to shatter bourgeois attitudes and/or get away with stuff.
But of course, it’s all fun and sex games until Karen, having vanished after the death of her baby, returns to her family for dinner, only to dribble the food she attempts to eat. The literal slap in the face that follows is almost as shocking as the figurative one dished out on the unsuspecting audience.
“I’ve Seen It All” in Dancer in the Dark
Not only is Dancer in the Dark a musical starring Björk, it’s a musical starring BJÖRK. Everyone’s favourite Icelandic volcano tears up the screen as Selma, an immigrant factory worker slowly losing her sight in a grim 1960s America. And it ends so much worse than you could have imagined.
In this scene, Björk tries to convince herself that losing her sight needn’t be the end of her world. “I’ve seen it all,” she sings. “There is no more to see!” While her smile and lyrics are the definition of stoicism, the chug-chug of the train is a sure-fire harbinger of doom. But she and her male chorus jump and skip and dance along it as it travels, insane as a Björk on the back of a van. If Rodgers & Hammerstein had shot heroin with Sherlock Holmes and then nabbed his violin, this might have been the result. As it stands, Björk happened, Lars von Trier happened, and this happened.
The slooooooooo-mo of Antichrist
In case potential audience members couldn’t tell from the title “Antichrist” or the poster depicting a woodland orgy, or the fact that this is a movie BY LARS VON TRIER, the opening scene makes it clear this is not a film for the faint of heart. A boy’s death is intercut with hardcore shots of his parents having sex in the shower.
While the movie goes on to feature a talking fox and a bleeding erection, it’s one of the quieter moments that creeps under the skin and stays there: wide shots of Charlotte Gainsbourg drifting through woodland, in possibly the slowest mo that’s ever been filmed. It’s haunting, dreamlike and beautiful, and yet another surprise in the most unique horror film of the past few decades.
The opening and ending of Melancholia
Carrying on from the dreamlike quality of Antichrist, Melancholia begins and ends with a surreal take on Armageddon; birds drop from the sky and Charlotte Gainsbourg once again moves in extreme slo-mo, this time dragging a child and a golf course with her.
It’s like René Magritte crossed with Chris Cunningham and a dollop of Kirsten Dunst, making it one of von Trier’s most visually striking films and the (bi)polar opposite of his Dogme output. Female characters still meet tragic conclusions, though.
What’s your favourite Lars von Trier moment? Let us know below…