Monday, July 09, 2012

The Good, The Bland, and the Ugly: Lars von Trier

The premise of this is simple: if someone, who knows little about the director/actor/etc. in question, asked you to select one film for each of the following three categories below, what films would they be?:

1) The Good – A film they should seek out right away
2) The Bland – Not among the best, but still a film they should see.
3) The Ugly – If pressed for time, this is the one film that they should skip in order to squeeze in more hours for the top works.

Keeping this in mind, my three would be as follow :

The GoodDogville. I know this may not be a popular choice with everyone. This film split the audience at TIFF straight down the middle back in 2003. Heck, even I debated whether or not Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, or Melancholia deserved to be the selected in this slot. They are all outstanding films in their own right. However, Dogville is the film I can watch repeatedly, regardless of the mood I am in. Shot on a bare sound stage, with the buildings marked by outlines on the floor, the film is a fascinating satire that looks at the hypocrisy of American culture. Considering the minimalist approach that von Trier took, it is amazing that he pulled together such an exceptional cast. While Nicole Kidman gives one of her best performances in the film, it is the supporting cast, featuring Lauren Bacall, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Gazzara, Chloë Sevigny, and Stellan John Skarsgård, who truly makes this film exceptional.

The Bland – While far from bland in the traditional sense I would have to say, under the rules we have established, Antichrist. Lars von Trier’s horror film is the perfect example of a film that works brilliantly in sections, but feels slightly disjointed as a whole. Both beautiful and disturbing at times, Antichrist is a film that is not for the faint of heart. The film focuses on a married couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) who essentially return to Eden to heal the emotional wounds of the loss of their son. The film features some very poignant commentary on the way women have been unfairly persecuted over the various generations. Unfortunately, the film loses sight of all the points it raises in the latter half when it goes into full on gratuitous horror mode.

The Ugly – It would be easy to go with my head and select The Idiots, but my heart says Manderlay. I will be the first to admit that I originally walked into Manderlay with high expectations. Being a big fan of Dogville, coupled with the idea of von Trier tackling American race relations, I was anticipating another euphoric TIFF experience with Manderlay. The film picks up where Dogville left off with Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard now assuming the Nicole Kidman role) discovering that slavery still exists on a plantation 70 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Though the film continues the theme of Grace’s idealistic nature backfiring against her, its commentary on the plights of African-Americans offers nothing new to the discussion. The film spends so much time outlining the well worn stereotypes that it feels like it is just going through the motions rather than creating something truly thought provoking.

What films would you select for each category? Provide reasons for your selections in the comments section.


  1. So glad you chose Dogville as The Good - it's one of my favourite movies of all time. I've only seen Dogville and Melancholia, and loved both of them, so I don't really have any answers for the other ones.

    1. Those are two solid films to start with. I would recommend seeing Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark next.

  2. OK... being the von Trier fan and having done an Auteurs piece on him... let's how I'll group von Trier by films.

    The Good... Breaking the Waves, Dogme #2: Idioterne, Riget I & II, Dogville, Antichrist, & Melancholia.

    The Bland... The Element of Crime, Europa, Dancer in the Dark, & The Five Obstructions.

    The Ugly... Epidemic, Medea, Manderlay, and The Boss of It All.

    1. I would swap Antichrist and Dancer in the Dark but otherwise I agree with your rankings.

  3. Great idea for the post. For me the good is Melancholia which I consider the only movie of his where he is not provoking for the sake of provoking, the bad Antichrist which is just trash and the ugly Mandarley, I agree with you. Howard was good but the movie itself as well as the stories from the production are awful to put it lightly.

    1. Despite my dislike of Manderlay, I would love to see him finish his America trilogy.


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