Lars von Trier has remained a fixture of arthouse cinema for close to thirty years, a provocative, divisive director with as many detractors as admirers. In May, BFI Southbank looks back at his singular body of work, from his acclaimed Europa trilogy, through the Dogme 95 movement to his headline-baiting recent output.
Even those familiar with von Trier’s latest features might not have had an opportunity to see his early films, The Element of Crime, Epidemic and Europa, dealing with post-war anxiety on the Continent. But, of course, it will be his work from the mid-to-late-90s that is likely to receive the most interest. Breaking The Waves, his breakthrough in America, stars Emily Watson, in one of the great performances of the decade, as a deeply religious young woman living in a remote Scottish town who, at the behest of her crippled husband, begins to sleep with the men of the town as a testament to her loyalty towards both him and to God. This mixture of uncomfortable social commentary coupled with shocking images of violence and sexuality were to define his work for the next twenty years.
Perhaps von Trier’s greatest achievement is The Idiots, a Dogme 95-inspired exploration of society’s attitudes towards mental illness, but he received even more rapturous praise for his musical tragedy, Dancer in the Dark, winning a Best Actress trophy at Cannes for its star, Bjork. The last ten years have been rockier for von Trier in terms of critical response, but his Brechtian experiment, Dogville, starring Nicole Kidman as a runaway that is first welcomed then maltreated by a vicious American community, is well worth checking out. Similarly, Antichrist, his visceral, shocking study of a relationship falling apart is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Even for those that might shy away from his reputation, von Trier’s films are as original as they are memorable.
BFI Southbank’s Lars von Trier season runs from 13-31 May and tickets are available from the official website.