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The Films Of Lars von Trier: A Retrospective

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist November 12, 2011 at 11:22AM

What with all his provocations and (usually) self-manufactured controversies, it's sometimes easy to forget that Lars von Trier is a truly gifted filmmaker, who yes, is a prankster and trickster as well, but also a man who imbues his characters with a rich sensitivity, even if the conditions they face can be cruel and harsh. Not all his films are masterpieces, but he's been turning heads at home and abroad for getting on 30 years now with films like "Europa," "Dancer in the Dark," "Breaking the Waves" and "Dogville" making some of the biggest waves internationally. Never easy watches, but always rewarding, he's slowly been assembling one of the most interesting back catalogues in recent memory -- ranging from period dramas to musicals to comedies -- even if accusations of misogyny and misanthropy aren't easily dismissable.
The Boss of It All

"The Boss of It All" (2006)
Our Danish boy has dabbled in comedy before with varying outcomes ("The Idiots" is strangely funny at times and the opening limo scene in "Melancholia" is hilarious; contrastingly he made an ill joke about, well, you know) but this one is his only flat-out farce, an oddity that sticks out so much that even the filmmaker argues for its existence in a goofy preface. The plot almost suggests von Trier had a plant in a Chuck Lorre writing room: Ravn (Peter Gantzler), unable to be the hard-ass he needs to be at his IT company, creates an imaginary boss whom he can blame when personnel get agitated. On the day he wants to sell the whole shebang, he hires desperate actor Kristoffer (von Trier regular Jens Albinus) to portray the fictitional administer. But when negotiations are pushed and the staff finally catch a glimpse of their hands-off asshole boss, Kristoffer finds himself having to keep the charade up a bit longer. It's a fish-out-of-water comedy, with our main character constantly trying to keep up the ruse to sitcommy effects. Albinus plays it straight and dry, but that doesn't keep the material from feeling very general and obvious at times -- the large amount of improv-esque dialogue rarely ever leads to any surprise off-the-cuff zingers that the pros always manage to exhume. Seemingly edited by a maniac with a full bladder, maybe the most amusing thing about the project are the results of its shooting style, Automavision, in which a computer chooses the lens's angle and movement. This lack of human sense causes a lot of laughable irregularities such as clipped bodies amd miles of empty space between characters or above heads. "The Boss of It All" musters up a surprising amount of heart towards the end, but its overdependency on unfunny dialogue-driven clowning make the road to it a tad laborious.  [B-]

"Antichrist" (2009)
“Chaos reigns” became something of a cinephile meme in 2009, not unlike (but never quite reaching that level of pop culture cache) “I drink your milkshake” from a few years before. That line, of course, comes from a highly divisive scene in Lars von Trier’s stab at the horror genre, “Antichrist,” and is said by a talking fox eating its own entrails. It’s an important scene in many ways: the line is something of a manifesto for the director’s storytelling sensibilities as well as the nature of this film; it’s also a turning point in the film, the big clue that things are about to go from pretty damn bad to holy-shit-did-you-just-see-that-horrible. But how you take that scene – your visceral, immediate reaction to it (do you laugh or find it creepy?) – may be the moment where you go all in for the crazy that’s about to transpire or when you throw your cards in the middle and fold. For this writer, it’s the former. “Antichrist” is many things – arthouse shock gore film, an ode to depression, a fresh take on the cabin in the woods sub genre, sometimes pretentious parable for dealing with grief – but something that cannot be denied is the skill with which von Trier builds up to the really horrible stuff. You’ve probably already heard about the graphic violence in the film even if you haven’t seen it, suffice to say it involves bad things happening to people’s naughty bits (and we’ll just leave it at that). But if you can move past it or simply deal with the shock value on screen, which is effective and not gratuitous in the context of the film, you open yourself to a very interesting response from the director on his label as a sadistic filmmaker who seems to take pleasure in punishing his female characters, and the nature of misogyny. [B+]

-- Erik McClanahan, Sam Chater, Cat Scott, Christopher Bell, Gabe Toro, RP

This article is related to: Features, Lars von Trier, Melancholia

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