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March 24 - April 5, 2006

From Dogme to Dogville: The Films of Lars von Trier

Among the most influential filmmakers of the past decade, Danish director Lars von Trier became a cinematic Martin Luther in 1995, the year of the medium’s centenary, when he issued a radical denunciation of film’s bad faith and decadence. His Dogme 95 contained eleven commandments (including prohibitions against genre films, artificial lighting, and the widescreen format) and invited artists of good faith to accept a “vow of chastity.” While ostensibly an attack on overblown commercial productions, the manifesto was effectively deployed in the promotion of a highly original series of low-budget films by von Trier and fellow directors associated with the Dogme movement. While some dismissed the revolutionary claims of von Trier and company, the critical success of their work vividly demonstrated what critic John Rockwell saw as the need “to strip away spectacle and technical frippery and concentrate on character and raw image.” Now entering the second decade of the Dogme era, von Trier remains one of the most celebrated, hotly debated, and artistically challenging figures in contemporary cinema. This retrospective offers examples of von Trier’s pre- and post-Dogme work as well as documentary portraits of the maker and the movement.

We offer special thanks for their help in organizing this series to the Danish Film Institute, Lions Gate Films, the Goethe Institut Boston, Koch Lorber Films, American Museum of the Moving Image, the American Cinematheque, the Wexner Center for the Arts and the National Film School of Denmark.


March 1 (Monday) 9:30 pm
March 2 (Tuesday) 9 pm
March 6 (Saturday) 9:30 pm

The Element of Crime (Forbrydelsens element)

Directed by Lars von Trier
Denmark, 1984, color, 104 min.
With Michael Elphick, Esmond Knight, Me Me Lai
Danish with English subtitles

Lars von Trier’s debut feature is an hallucinatory and stylish masterpiece. Long enjoying cult-movie status in Europe, The Element of Crime is the story of Fischer, an ex-cop who returns to his old beat somewhere in Northern Europe after a thirteen-year hiatus in Cairo in order to help solve the sinister “lotto murders.” Under the baleful gaze of his mentor, author of the treatise “The Element of Crime,” Fischer employs his teacher’s method of trying to enter the criminal’s mind. As much a cinematic allegory as a psychological thriller, the film investigates the terrain of criminal cinemas past, radically revising genre conventions even as it opens onto a new mode of postmodern practice.

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March 15 (Monday) 9 pm
March 16 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Epidemic

Directed by Lars von Trier
Denmark, 1988, b/w, 106 min.
With Lars von Trier, Niels Vørsel, Udo Kier
Danish and English with English subtitles

After failing to complete a screenplay titled “The Cop and The Whore” for their producer, a director and screenwriter (portrayed by von Trier and his real-life screenwriter, Niels Vørsel) instead craft a script about a fatal illness which they hope will satisfy their backers. In a perverse twist of life imitating art, a mysterious plague approaches just as the writers develop their treatment. Rather than exploit the suspenseful aspects of the plot, the director thumbs his nose at expected horror-movie convention and favors instead a series of compelling yet static monologues, including a bizarre war story from von Trier regular Udo Kier.

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March 3 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm
March 9 (Tuesday) 9:15 pm

Medea

Directed by Lars von Trier
Denmark, 1988, color, 76 min.
With Udo Kier, Kirsten Olesen, Henning Jensen
Danish with English subtitles

Fifteen years ago, von Trier made a television adaptation of an unfilmed screenplay by one of the cinema’s greatest figures, Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer. Medea is a stark, compelling rendition of the classical Greek tragedy transposed to a pagan Danish setting. Aside from two brief, delirious blue-screen video epiphanies, von Trier subordinates his baroque, stylized signature to the simplicity and purity of Dreyer’s conception. The resulting tension and narrative economy confirm von Trier’s status as a master of visual design.

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Introduced by New York Times Critic John Rockwell
March 5 (Friday) 7 pm

The Idiots (Idioterne)

Directed by Lars von Trier
Denmark/Sweden/France/Neth./Italy, 1998, color, 117 min.
With Bodil Jørgensen, Jens Albinus, Anne Louise Hassing
Danish with English subtitles

The second film in von Trier’s “Good Woman” trilogy (preceded by Breaking the Waves and followed by Dancer in the Dark), The Idiots is set in a Danish commune in which the members engage in acts of “spassing” (feigning mental and physical disabilities in public settings) to confront the hypocrisies of bourgeois society. The “good woman” in this instance is Karen, an introverted newcomer to the group with a dark secret. Although he had employed many of the techniques put forth in the Dogme 95 manifesto both before and after this film’s release, The Idiots is the only film the director produced under the movement’s collective banner. This rare screening of the original uncensored version of the film will be introduced by John Rockwell, New York Times cultural critic and author of a recently released monograph on the film published by BFI Modern Classics.

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March 5 (Friday) 9:30 pm

The Humiliated (de Ydmygede)

Directed by Jesper Jargil
Denmark, 1998, color, 83 min.
Danish with English subtitles

One of the team of cinematographers for Lars von Trier’s The Idiots, Jesper Jargil took advantage of his unique access to von Trier’s working methods to tape this behind-the-scenes portrait of the making of the film. Complemented by excepts from von Trier’s own audio diary, The Humiliated paints a complex picture of the controversial director as an emotional, manipulative, vulnerable, and yet utterly focused artist deeply engaged in the intense creative process necessary to bring his visions to life.

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Actress Barbara Sukowa in Person March 6
March 6 (Saturday) 7 pm
March 8 (Monday) 9 pm

Zentropa (aka Europa)

Directed by Lars von Trier
Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Switzerland, 1991, b/w and color, 112 min.
With Jean-Marc Barr, Barbara Sukowa, Udo Kier
English and German with English subtitles

A visually stunning film whose wide-screen, multilayered compositions produce a chilling hypnotic effect, Zentropa is a nightmarish travelogue that follows a young protagonist’s return to a dystopian Germany immediately after the Second World War. Leo Kessler (Barr) finds himself entangled with an ambiguous woman (Sukowa), American Occupation authorities, pro-Nazi terrorists, and Zentropa—a giant railway corporation that becomes the center of a power struggle for the new order. Using rear projection, superimposition, and nonnaturalistic color, von Trier creates a complex, hybrid cinema of illusion and allusion that he would later reject as excessive.

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March 22 (Monday) 9 pm

Nocturne

Directed by Lars von Trier
Denmark/US, 1980, b/w and color, silent, 8 min.

On a hot summer night, a young woman wakes from a nightmare to discover that she is suffering from a degenerative eye disease. In this early short, von Trier’s signature obsessions seem already well-formed.

Image of Relief (Befrielsesbilleder)

Directed by Lars von Trier
Denmark, 1982, color, 57 min.
With Edward Fleming, Kirsten Olesen
Danish with English subtitles

Lars von Trier’s rarely-screened “diploma film,” Image of Relief was completed as his final project for the National Film School of Denmark. The story concerns a German officer who escapes his internment and attempts to find his local mistress in the days following the liberation of Denmark. The film earned the young director a Best Film award at the Munich Film Festival

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March 23 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Purified (De Lutrede)

Directed by Jesper Jargil
Denmark, 2002, color, 74 min.
With Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen
Danish with English subtitles

A day long meeting between Dogme practitioners Lars Von Trier, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, Thomas Vinterberg, and Kristian Levring provides the material for this documentary portrait of the controversial late-1990s film movement. The directors confront the flaws of the movement, with Vinterberg confessing to stretching the rules of the audacious “vow of chastity” to suit his particular vision. Rather than simply celebrate the work of the movement, director Jesper Jargil challenges the filmmakers to reflect on the implications of their unique process.

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March 26 (Friday) 7 pm

The Five Obstructions

Directed by Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier
Denmark/Switzerland/Belgium/France, 2003, b/w and color, 90 min.
Danish, English, French, Spanish with English subtitles

Documentarian Jørgen Leth’s 1967 experimental film The Perfect Human provides the inspiration for this unusual collaboration with Lars von Trier. In The Five Obstructions, von Trier challenges Leth to remake this seminal work five different times. Each remake is constricted by an arbitrary set of limitations determined by the impish von Trier. As Leth becomes increasingly frustrated with his counterpart’s whims, von Trier documents the break down of the creative process. This inspired tête-a tête gives an intriguing perspective on the odd manipulations between filmmaker and subject.

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March 26 (Friday) 9 pm
March 28 (Sunday) 7 pm

Breaking the Waves

Directed by Lars von Trier
Denmark/Sweden/France/Netherlands/Norway, 1996, color, 159 min.
With Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgård, Katrin Cartlidge

In a remote northern Scottish village in the early 1970s, Bess (Watson), a young and trusting girl who is “not quite right in the head,” meets resistance from her close-knit community for her decision to marry a North-Sea oil-rig worker. A heart-wrenching study of faith, innocence, cruelty, and the crushing mores of religion, Breaking the Waves received the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and launched the career of Emily Watson, who delivers an extraordinary debut performance.

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Advance Tickets on sale now
March 27 (Saturday) 7 pm

Dogville

Directed by Lars von Trier
Denmark/Sweden/France/Norway/Netherlands/
Finland/Germany/Italy/Japan/US/UK, 2003, color, 177 min.
With Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, James Caan

In the fictitious rural American town of Dogville, a mysterious woman (Kidman) arrives seeking shelter from her troubled past. She agrees to work for the townspeople in exchange for protection from a band of gangsters pursuing her. As the threat becomes imminent, the townspeople modify their arrangement with potentially fatal consequences. Never a stranger to Brechtian formal experimentation, von Trier employed a uniquely designed black-box set for the town with virtually no facades or building structures and further heightened the work’s theatricality by relying upon a unseen male narrator.

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Dogville Confessions

Directed by Sami Saif
Denmark, 2003, color, 52 min.
With Nicole Kidman, Ben Gazzara, Lars von Trier

A companion piece to Dogville, Sami Saif’s behind-the-scenes account combines cast interviews with footage compiled from “boxes of truth”—confessional boxes equipped with video cameras located on the set. The confessional footage gives insight into the actors’ struggles with von Trier’s tortured process.

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March 29 (Monday) 7 pm

Dancer in the Dark

Directed by Lars von Trier
Denmark/Germany/Netherlands/US/UK/
France/Sweden/Finland/Iceland/Norway, 2000, color, 140 min.
With Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse

Selma, the third of von Trier’s “good women,” is a factory worker with deteriorating eyesight struggling to earn enough money to pay for an eye operation for her son. After a tragic turn of events, her fate is irrevocably altered. Recalling the Hollywood musicals of her youth, Selma drifts in and out of a fantasy world punctuated by alternately joyous and melancholy musical pieces (including a courtroom cameo by Broadway legend Joel Grey). After the exhaustive production, Icelandic songstress Björk vowed never to act on film again.

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March 30 (Tuesday) 6 pm

The Kingdom

Directed by Lars von Trier and Morten Arnfred
Denmark/France/Germany/Sweden 1994, color, 279 min.
With Ernst-Hugo Jäegard, Kirsten Rolffes, Holger Juul Hansen
Danish and Swedish with English subtitles

Originally broadcast as a mini-series on Danish television, The Kingdom is set within the confines of a crumbling Copenhagen hospital where a lurid, demented, baroque, apocalyptic plot unfolds involving ghosts, mad doctors, secret societies, crime, corruption, and cover-ups. The large cast of characters includes an overbearing Swedish neurosurgeon who fulminates against "Danish scum"; his lover, an anesthetist who practices Haitian voodoo; an elderly spiritualist who repeatedly feigns illnesses in order to stay in hospital; a young doctor suddenly suffering a Rosemary's Baby-style pregnancy; various medical black marketers, inept administrators, and love-sick interns; and two Down's Syndrome dishwashers, who function as the work's Greek chorus.

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March 31 (Wednesday) 6 pm

The Kingdom II

Directed by Lars von Trier and Morten Arnfred
France/Italy/Germany/Denmark/Sweden/Norway 1997, color, 286 min.
With Ernst-Hugo Järegard, Peter Mygind, Kirsten Rolffes
Danish and Swedish with English subtitles

As the story picks up in the second installment of von Trier's mock-schlock-horror soap-opera opus, the pompous Swedish neurosurgeon (played by the wonderfully loathsome Järegard) has returned to Copenhagen from Haiti with a zombie potion designed to dispatch the pesky young doctor determined to expose his medical negligence. Meanwhile, the young intern has given bloody birth to a gargantuan half-demon baby, sibling of the ghostly girl who haunts the hospital's halls. Other narrative threads - variously involving tumors, excrement, cost-cutting medical administrators, and secret societies - keep the high-camp comedy cranked up and the plotting jam-packed.

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