Hot on the heels of the first festival - life’s one long festival in the Dilo household. I wasn’t going to do this, but after a recent comment from Mrs Boyo I reckoned that maybe I had an ally, and so here it is, a Lars von Trier All-Nighter! I’m not sure if this breaks the one-an-evening dictum, but Lars and the lads frequently broke their own Dogme 95 rules so I’m in good company. Von Trier is a fascinating director not only because of his films’ artistic quality but also because they're all so very different from each other. Also, he pisses a lot of people off.
Breaking The Waves (1996)
This film centres on a innocent and rather suggestible Scottish girl who marries a hardy oil-rig worker. He gets injured and incapacitated; she has lots of bad sex with other men in order to give him vicarious satisfaction, and is rejected by her narrowly religious local community; she dies, which then (in what might be considered an act of redemption from the Catholic convert von Trier) brings him back to health. It’s brilliant, harrowing, and in addition to the lauded Emily Watson features the late and much lamented (by me and Morrissey, at least) Katrin Cartlidge. It’s often the little touches von Trier adds that I appreciate the most: the film has interludes featuring beautiful shots of Scottish landscape and the music of the period in which the film is set – 1970s, David Bowie etc – nothing to do with the story but perhaps reminding us what comparatively inconsequential lives the rest of us were leading at the time.
The Idiots (1998)
Hmmm, actors pretending to be mentally retarded, finding their “inner idiot”, and actually going into Copenhagen bars and having their interactions with the drinkers surreptitiously filmed. Mental incapacity as a release and freedom from “civilised” “normal” life – very R. D. Laing, very Summer-Of-Love, very Danish. At one point (and I can’t quite remember why) the film turns into an orgy, with people having actual sex - not really pornography, sorry chaps. I dunno whether it’s “film as therapy”, but Von Trier famously hated his atheistic, hippy mother and has more neuroses than Woody Allen. I personally “get” the whole catharsis idea, but The Idiots tends to, errr, “polarise opinion”: some people consider it disturbing, stupid, boring or just plain wrong. However, I suspect it is quite unlike any other film.
“A superb film but an empty one”, “Great techniques, shame about the plot” and “Eh, what was all that about?” are some of the responses that I seem to remember to this film. But, it doesn’t matter, because it’s a most brilliant piece of cinematography. There are more great stylistic ideas here than you can shake a hand-held camera at, but unfortunately I’m not an expert and so don’t know what they’re called or how original they are. For instance, there’s the monotony of the endless footage of train tracks, the filming of actors performing in real-time with actors captured on film, and other stuff. Also, although it gets lost at times, the plot seems to be saying something: “Europe is dying”, “Europe is dead”, “Europeans are all fascists”, “Europe is rubbish”, or simply “help!”; I’m not entirely sure, but, like I say, I don’t think it really matters.
I’ve eschewed the better known Dancer in the Dark as although it’s an interesting film - and I love Björk - I feel it’s fatally flawed by a storyline that's been described as “a bad joke”. Riget was a Danish TV mini-series, but I saw all the episodes in one night in a cinema, so it counts as a film. It concerns life in Copenhagen’s big state hospital - yeah, if David Lynch was the chief administrator. If the writers of Channel 4’s The Green Wing weren’t inspired by this I’d be very surprised. It has von Trier touches like having the ancillary staff played by people with Down’s Syndrome. Many of the jokes are culturally specific: the cast is an ensemble of Danish comic talent, though the star turn is the endlessly pompous Swedish doctor (Ernst-Hugo Järegård). The Danes in the cinema with me were paralytic with laughter, and I’d lived there long enough to be in pretty much the same condition as they were.