Category Archives: Lars von Trier

A chain around your neck

I think it started when I read Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, which is an exceptional book, quite different from Thomas Mann’s other books, because you sense that it came to him very easily. I’m a big admirer of Thomas Mann, but all the other books tend to get rather heavy. This one has a lightness. And it’s five volumes, so it’s a big bastard. But because he had an ‘obstruction’ in the form of ‘So says the Bible’, he was able to let his hair down. I’m convinced about the obstruction principle, because it makes it play rather than a duty. I remember Per Kirkeby hated the white canvas. So he had an assistant who’d paint on them. Anything. That gave him a point of departure and then it could become something completely different. It’s funny that total freedom isn’t all that artistically interesting, strangely enough. You also sometimes sense the political situation people have been in. Tarkovsky, for example, made by far his best movies in the Soviet Union, because he was in this strange oppressive situation, but he found a niche so he was returned to favour. As soon as he goes to Italy and Sweden, it doesn’t work for me anymore. Apparently you to have some sort of chain around your neck. It’s like athletes who make things harder for themselves, or circus performers who do something that’s a bit more difficult, which at least becomes a reward for themselves.

— Lars von Trier, 2020 interview

Ecstatic film joy

25th of June. Ecstatic film joy! Yes, that probably covers it … We went to the forest and shot a fantastic scene, which turned out totally Fellinian. I broke with the Dogma rule about not having any aesthetics and sprinted over to that part of my childhood’s forest… it’s a strange part, because I’ve used almost all the forests and streams and God knows what out here, but precisely this part of the forest, which I think of as the most poetic and almost Japanese part, I’ve never used. I naturally steered towards it, as I’d do on any ordinary walk, and it’s a tiny little pine wood with green grass, and we were blessed with a windy day.

We got some great poetry out of moving the conversation that didn’t work the other night from inside, where it didn’t belong, to out here, with this fantastically high ceiling. It was inspiring somehow, and all those loonies walking around, it was actually—this just occurs to me—it was actually Truffaut’s Fahrenheit something-or-other, where they walk around in the forest memorizing books, and it’s beautiful as hell, of course. So the loons were walking around each in his or her own way, while Karen and Stoffer talked, and it really got very very poetic, for example the line where he says ‘in the Stone Age all the idiots died, but it doesn’t have to be like that anymore’. It was very poetic when the shot simultaneously panned out over all the idiots, especially Ped, who was in the wheelchair, it was just very beautiful and fantastically naive and sentimental and everything all at once. You might say those are the kinds of gifts you get along the way. Things you wouldn’t have written in a manuscript because it would be over the top, you suddenly get as a gift, and that’s allowed. That’s actually what all the Dogma rules are about—that you can allow yourself a lot of things precisely because of the rules. And it turned out fucking great, that scene.

Then we tried to work a bit creatively with the sound for the first time, that’s to say we stuck the microphone in the treetops and got the wind in the treetops over lots of shots of the spazzes just walking around, so we don’t hear their real sound, just the treetops. And it’s so so so over the top, an over-the-top cinematic cliché, which I’ve otherwise shied away from, but which suddenly, because we had to make the decision on the spot, became real and worked fucking brilliantly. Well, that’s what I think now, anyway, without having seen it. I was almost moved when Josephine and Jeppe touch each other while they’re spazzing. The funny thing about this film is that it only takes a milligram of love in some little corner, and you’re… and you break down in convulsive sobs. Maybe it’s just my brain that’s totally hyperactive, but that’s how I feel…

It’s a film that’s a lot less calculating than Breaking the Waves, and yet far far far far more calculating. Well, that might be hard to understand, not more calculating, but much more… I don’t know… allowing yourself to go on an effect-picnic with many many nods to Widerberg and Truffaut and Tarkovsky and blah blah blah. But it was fucking beautiful, and… when I was filming there I cried and on the way home I cried too, the soft little man in his stupid giant mobile home listening to the Spice Girls. And then I get—I can hardly bring myself to say this, but I guess a diary demands some sort of honesty—then I get so maudlin and suddenly afraid for… my talent. Well, this really isn’t easy to listen to, I’m totally aware of that, but when you’ve done a scene like that—and that’s why I’m talking about the ecstatic—you get scared that there’s some big big hubris that’ll drop down from the sky like a giant fist and squash you like one of those mosquitoes from the forest. I thought, ‘surely I’ll get cancer now, surely I’ll get cancer now’. There’s no way out once you get to that point. And it may be that we’ve achieved nothing today, but still the feeling is intact. I’m thinking, ‘for Chrissake, I’m brilliant, I’m brilliant, I’m brilliant’. I’m brilliant, and it’ll be interesting to see this in print when the film comes out and it gets the finger. But I still think that for the sake of the cause I have to say it as it is—that on the way home I thought ‘Jesus, this is awesome… Jesus, you can really do this shit, you can really set these things free’.

— Lars von Trier, The Idiots film diary (my trans.)

Too easy

Q. This film feels like you were out of [depression], that you had come to another place.
A. Yes, and that’s what I’m not so proud of somehow. That it was too easy to do the film.
Q. It feels like it was easy, it feels like it was like butter.
A. Yeah.
Q. Why is that bad?
A. That’s a very good question. I think it has to do with the Protestantism of my country, even though I’m not religious. I think it has to with that … It’s like, you have a great view and if you crawl there with your nails and see the view, or you go there in your car, stop the car, get out, see the view… that’s something different… even though it’s the same view.

Lars von Trier

The Idiots

[Extracts from Lars von Trier’s The Idiots film diary, my trans.]


The following is a kind of diary which I recorded on a dictaphone from just before the start of production until well into the editing stage. In keeping with the spirit of Dogma, I have neither read nor corrected the text. However, Peter Øvig has been kind enough to read it and make corrections where they were necessary in order to make the spoken language readable—but without my intervention or censure.

Without otherwise disavowing the text, I will merely note that all statements are unprepared and thus spontaneous. Since both the factual and analytical information probably contain quite a few inaccuracies (not to say untruths), it is advisable to read the text as a kind of self-therapy on the part of the author, born out of the agitated emotional state that was the very technique of the film.

Lars von Trier, March 1998

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