If you’re looking for a director who’s both experimental and controversial, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. When he’s not dealing with his multitude of phobias or being kicked out of the Cannes Film Festival for sympathizing with Hitler, he makes films that punch the mainstream square in the nose and often take a decidedly critical look at the United States.
While I was familiar with Lars von Trier movies by reputation, it wasn’t until I wrote this article that I realized that I had yet to see one. I intend for that to change in the near future, and I’ve devoted this post to looking at those titles I’m most likely to place into my queue. If you have your own recommendation for Lars von Trier movies, be sure to chime in under the comments section.
Films Directed by Lars Von Trier
The following Lars Von Trier films are being given serious consideration:
The Element of Crime (1984) – This was Von Trier’s first feature film, and it tells the story of a detective in Cairo who’s being put under hypnosis in order to remember his last case. As the dark memories come flooding back, he recalls a deranged serial killer who preys on girls selling lottery tickets, a helpful Asian prostitute, and a controversial method for catching the killer that requires our protagonist to become intimately familiar with the mind of a serial murderer. I’ve always been a fan of crime films, and something tells me that Von Trier’s version will be noticeably distinct.
Breaking the Waves (1996) – After her husband becomes paralyzed and is no longer able to perform sexually, a young woman (Emily Watson) is urged to seek out new partners for lovemaking and then share the details with her hubby. Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes, it has also been listed as one of the best films of the 1990s by director Martin Scorsese. Just don’t watch it with the kids. For that matter, keep your youngsters away from any Lars von Trier project.
The Idiots (1998) – In order to thumb their nose at society and overcome their inhibitions, a group of adults spend their time acting as though they’re mentally disabled. A bizarre premise to be sure, and the first film to adhere to the Dogme 95 Manifesto, a style of filmmaking co-created by Von Trier. In case you’re wondering, this movement requires filming to be done on-location with hand-held cameras and no special effects. A number of other rules are also present, with each designed to emphasize story and character over technology.
Dancer in the Dark (2000) – Never one to stick to a particular genre, Lars von Trier tries his hand at a musical with this tale of a Czech immigrant (Bjork) who struggles to save enough money to keep her son from going blind. Winner of the Palm d’Or at Cannes (along with Best Actress for Bjork), the film was both hailed for being a stylistic breath of fresh air and condemned for its sentimentality. I’ve never seen Bjork act in anything except for music videos, so I’m curious to witness the results. As with most Lars von Tier movies, the supporting cast is all kinds of terrific. This one includes Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, and Stellen Skarsgard.
Dogville (2003) – A bizarre and graphic film about a woman (Nicole Kidman) on the run from mobsters who seeks refuge in a small town named Dogville. She makes herself useful by performing simple chores for the citizens, and both sides slowly come to appreciate one another. But things take a darker turn in the second half of the film, resulting in cruel degradation and mass murder. The climax has become notorious for its violence, which is enough of a reason for me to see it. The superb supporting cast (John Hurt, Lauren Bacall, Paul Bettany, Stellan Skarsgard, James Caan, Ben Gazzara) doesn’t hurt, either. Just be warned that the project was shot on a stage, with many of the objects and building only denoted by a sign.
Antichrist (2009) – Following the death of their child, a grieving couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) head to an isolated cabin for an intense therapy session. The wife is particularly affected, and it’s not long before her grief and fears begin to manifest in increasingly nightmarish ways. Featuring self-disemboweling foxes and genital mutilation, this Lars von Trier film caused a great uproar at Cannes and resulted in four people passing out from the extreme violence. Any movie that causes Europeans to faint is immediately placed on my list of must-see titles.
Melancholia (2011) – Lars von Trier takes on the sci-fi genre with this tale of a young woman suffering from depression (Kirsten Dunst) who must cope with family problems and a planet on a collision course with Earth. Dunst captured the Best Actress award at Cannes, and her supporting cast includes Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgard, Udo Kier, and Alexander Skarsgard. Since the director also suffers from clinical depression, I’m interested to see how he depicts this malady on the big screen.
The next time you’re in the mood for foreign films that will challenge your intellect and possibly your sanity, be sure to give the Lars Von Trier movies listed above a try. While they’re not for everyone, fans of the controversial Danish director will find them a refreshing change that’s about as far away from a Michael Bay films as possible.