LARS VON TRIER RETROSPECTIVE
Before you see Lars von Trier’s highly anticipated THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT on December 14, revisit three of the controversial auteur’s most revered, challenging, and beautiful films at the Philadelphia Film Center.
All three films: $21 / $12 PFS Members
DANCER IN THE DARK
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 7TH 7:00 PM
LARS VON TRIER | DENMARK | 2000 | 140 MIN | R
In Lars von Trier’s unconventional musical, Icelandic songstress Björk stars as Czech immigrant Selma, a single mother living in Washington State in 1964. Selma loves the musicals of Hollywood’s golden age, yet her reality couldn’t be further from those silver screen dreamscapes. She’s rapidly losing her eyesight, a fact that she tries desperately to hide from her young son and the bosses at her grim factory job. In moments of private reverie, Selma imagines that her life is a musical, and in these song-and-dance sequences von Trier brazenly disregards the Dogme 95 principles he’d once espoused (among them: no non-diegetic music). A sense of doom is ever-present, with the circumstances of Selma’s life degenerating faster than her sight. Yet it’s a testament to the filmmaker’s crafty skill and, most of all, to Björk’s go-for-broke performance that the audience can’t help but root for Selma even as the odds against her soar. It’s not an easy film to watch (nor, by all accounts, a pleasant film to make), but DANCER IN THE DARK is a must-see for Von Trier’s ability to craft a musical/melodrama hybrid that simultaneously embraces and subverts the genres in which he’s working.
Cast: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8TH 7:00 PM
LARS VON TRIER | DENMARK | 2009 | 108 MIN | NR
Claiming the distinction of “most disturbing Lars von Trier film” is quite a feat given the Danish provocateur’s famously intense oeuvre, but few who have experienced ANTICHRIST would deny it the title. The film is a gorgeous black hole of grief, following a married couple in the aftermath of their young son’s accidental death. While the wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is almost catatonic with despair and self-recrimination, her psychologist husband (Willem Dafoe) attempts to wrest her out of bereavement with a series of well-intentioned but ill-conceived therapeutic exercises. They venture to their isolated cabin in the woods, and against this eerily beautiful backdrop von Trier’s blisteringly intense portrait of a marital crisis takes on increasingly supernatural, savage dimensions. Like a black metal take on Bergman, ANTICHRIST renders the psychological torment of its characters in ever more physical terms, incorporating some of the most upsetting body horror every captured on-screen. Von Trier’s handling of gender dynamics is thorny as ever, but once again he’s blessed with a fearless performance from his lead actress, and Gainsbourg deservedly took home the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her work.
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9TH 7:00 PM
LARS VON TRIER | DENMARK | 2011 | 135 MIN | R
You must see MELANCHOLIA on the big screen, if only for the seven-minute opening that lays bare the film’s trajectory: a mysterious rogue planet (the titular MELANCHOLIA) collides with the Earth in exquisite, excruciating slow motion as Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde thunders throughout the auditorium. What follows is a first act so joyous and beautiful that you’d be forgiven for doubting that the Cannes Film Festival’s resident Enfant Terrible was behind the camera. That von Trier so perfectly captures the euphoric endorphin high of a bride on her wedding day is a cruel prelude to her catastrophic descent into profound depression. Kirsten Dunst won the Best Actress prize at Cannes with good reason for her portrayal of a woman teetering between madness and clarity, and Charlotte Gainsbourg is equally strong as Justine’s seemingly more grounded sister. Famously conceived at a time when von Trier himself was battling severe depression, MELANCHOLIA is one of cinema’s greatest evocations of despair, rendering human sadness as the stuff of lush, operatic spectacle.
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård