The controversial Danish film director Lars von Trier rarely gives interviews, but he allowed me into his remote bunkerby Mark Cousins / December 15, 2010 / Leave a comment
Lars von Trier’s Dogville: he has said a film should be a bit painful
I’m in a tiny bar in Trastevere in central Rome. An Italian cover version of Doris Day’s “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” is playing. Candlelights flicker. It’s as mild here tonight as it was freezing in Scandinavia, where I’ve just come from and where my thoughts still are.
The subject of those thoughts is modern film’s greatest iconoclast, the Danish director Lars von Trier, co-author of the sackcloth-and-ashes 1990s Dogme manifesto which rejected the gloss and artifice of cinema. I filmed an interview with him a few days ago, and was lucky to get it. He says no to most interviews and, since his depression and the worldwide controversy surrounding the 2009 horror film that resulted from this melancholy, Antichrist, he’s been reluctant to come out of his cave. So I wrote to him not asking him to be in the film I’m making, but telling him that I need him in it, and he said yes.
The reason I’m thinking about Von Trier and not Trastevere is because he excited me. How do you film an iconoclast? What image do you shoot of someone who destroys conventional imagery? My attempt to be iconoclastic about this iconoclast started when I went to Film City, on the outskirts of Copenhagen, where his company, Zentropa, inhabits a former military barracks. I didn’t film the tank that’s usually parked there—Zentropa’s two fingers up to Danish social democracy—because it’s been filmed to death. Nor did I film the garden “piss gnomes” that Von Trier’s producer Peter Aalbeck Jensen urinates on; they, too, have been photographed a lot. I took a wide shot of the massive wall of awards for Zentropa films, what they call the “wall of shame,” and the sign beside it which says “No Artistic Integrity Beyond This Point.” Zentropa is such a self-mythologising company that these things have appeared in the press too, but less often, so I was getting closer to being original. And I filmed the outdoor, unheated pool where Von Trier and Aalbeck swim naked at lunchtime, and wanted to plunge in myself.
Then I got a more revealing shot. Von Trier works in a cottage-bunker that is detached from the rest of Film City, has its back turned to the other buildings and is banked up by mounds of earth because it was once the…