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TIFF BELL Lightbox - Lars Von Trier

08 Nov 2011

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November 9 to November 19: Lars von Trier: Waiting for the End of the World

Lars Von Trier, Dane bad boy’s latest MELANCHOLIA, opening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this Friday Nov 18th,is the catalyst igniting a retro of his works to date.

The retro of films begins Nov 9th with BREAKING THE WAVES, the English film that brought him international fame.  To me, EUROPA was the film that did it.  Having viewed it three times, EUROPA is still amazing in Von Trier’s imagination, ingenuity and cinematic yes, genius.

For complete listing and program of his films, ticket pricing and showtimes, check the TIFF website at:
http://tiff.net/cinematheque

Capsule reviews of 3 of his films are found below, screeners provided courtesy of TIFF.

Fusing the gritty, handheld realism of his more recent work with the gorgeously aestheticized palettes of such early films as The Element of Crime and Europa, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is a watershed moment for the ever-provocative and controversial auteur. TIFF’s select retrospective of some of von Trier’s key films highlights the daring unpredictability and constant evolution of this most exciting of contemporary filmmakers.

Films screening from November 4 to November 17 include:

Breaking the Waves
Wednesday, November 9 at 6:30pm
The Element of Crime
Friday, November 11 at 6:30pm
Europa (a.k.a. Zentropa)
Saturday, November 12 at 8pm
Thursday, November 17 at 9:15pm
Dogville
Wednesday, November 16 at 6:30pm
Dancer in the Dark
Friday, November 18 at 6.00pm

DANCER IN THE DARK (Denmark 2000) ***
Directed by Lars Von Trier
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DANCER ON THE DARK is a strange film, a sombre musical, the major part of it being about death. Yet, the characters often break into song and dance, lifting the film’s mood into a lightness of spirit, often found in the old Hollywood musicals like “Singing In The Rain” and “The Sound of Music”. And the film is set in America but filmed entirely on location in Sweden.  The plot concerns Selma (Bjork), a Czech immigrant and single mother going blind because of a hereditary illness. She is saving up for an operation for her 12-year old son so that he will not suffer the same fate. Her passion for musicals is her only outlet. She is playing Maria in a small production of the Sound of Music. Things turn out for the worse when her cop neighbour (David Morse) steals her savings. She retrieves the money, only after shooting him. She is tried for the death penalty.  Selma’s blindness gives Von Trier plenty of material to play with. For one, it is an easy way out to tap on the audience’s sympathy. And it is nerve wrecking watching Selma, going blind and operating dangerous heavy machinery. Even the dialogue can be exploited to good use. “What else is there to see?” Bjork who won the Cannes Best Actress award has screen presence.  She is not afraid of showing her tired, unattractive side and Von Trier takes full advantage with lots of close-ups.  Von Trier’s wierd musical is daring and reckless, making it exciting viewing. The railway musical number with lumberjacks prancing in the log wagons is lively and thrilling. Unlike most Hollywood musicals where the camera is stationary or the dancers tracked, Von Trier films most of the numbers with hand held camera. One result is an energy and spontaneity displayed. But his film is not without problems. We only get glimpses of the full musical numbers. Von Trier’s cardboard characters have neither past nor present. The Catherine Deneuve character exists solely to help out poor Selma. All players in this hick American town have Euroepean accents.

DOGVILLE (UK/Denmark/France /Germany 2003) *****
Directed by Lars Von Trier
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Bad Dane Lars Von Trier’s DOGVILLE is the first of his trilogy on the subject of the land of opportunity. Ironically, he sets his first and really bleak parable during the depression era with a sad tale of the township of Dogville. Von Trier has dismissed the 1975 ‘dogma’ treatment as is apparent from the over-use of voice-over (narrated by John Hurt), artificial lighting and titles throughout the film – though the hand held camera technique is predominantly employed.  DOGVILLE is sparse looking - filmed in one sound stage with the characters moving in and out imaginary houses and walking down imaginary streets.  The film’s minor flaws lie in the narrative. The motive of Grace not revealing the real reason for her demise is unconvincing. While the unexplained poster of Grace being ‘wanted’ is also left hanging, the ploy is necessary for the latter events to unfold.  The pleasures, however are plentiful from the sarcastic and humorously dry voiceover, ensemble acting to the dimly lit sets and deliberately clichéd depiction of small town America complete with old Ford trucks and barking dog. Von Trier also teases the viewer to figure the deeper meaning of the seven figurines and the final appearance of the barking dog.  His filming of DOGVILLE in sequence shows as the acting, plotting and drama intensifies as the chapters progress towards their conclusion.  The last chapter (the debate on arrogance) is particularly disturbing though it provides the necessary satisfying ending where all is revealed.

EUROPA (Denmark and other countries 1991) *****
Directed by Lars Von Trier
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Hate it or love it, EUROPA put Dane Lars Von Trier on the world film map with his hypnotic, mesmerizing and cinematically inventive EUROPA which tells the story of an American German who returns to Germany just after WWII.  Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr) hopes to show some kindness to the German people.  He lands a job as a railway sleeping car conductor owned by Lawrence Hartmann (Udo Kier), the head of the railway dynasty.  When his daughter, Kate (Barbara Sukowa) spreads her legs and asks Leopold to show a little kindness to the German people, the result is love and marriage.  But she happens to be a member of the Werewolves, an underground organization bent on destruction of post war Germany.  Trier’s film begins as a nightmare with Max Von Sydow’s overlong voiceover placing Leopold Kessler in the Europa setting.  This device which is used, time and again is effective and unsettling.  The metaphor of the train on life is brilliant.  A character mentions that he dreams he is on a train ride that goes on forever on a journey that he knows not the destination and in which he cannot get off.  Isn’t life a similar journey?  Shot, alternately black and white and colour for no apparent reason but to puzzle the viewer, EUROPA is quite the trip for the unsuspecting viewer.  I have seen EUROPA thrice and still been fascinated with it.  Clearly, EUROPA is Von Trier’s best film to date.

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