“Even in his merry days, he’s still very caustic,” says Charlotte Gainsbourg of frequent collaborator Lars von Trier. Between staging female castrations on screen and getting himself banned from Cannes, the man wallows in his unusual status as both a troublemaker and an auteur. It’s not surprising that documentaries chronicling the production of one of his feature films would be a little strange.
Prior to von Trier’s mid-90s avant-garde movement known as Dogme 95, he’d directed a handful of shorts and had already completed a loose trilogy of films consisting of The Element of Crime, Epidemic, and Europa. The Making of Europa is a 39-minute exploration of the techniques implemented on that film, pinpointing his recurring thematic fixations. On the set of Epidemic, hypnotists were used to place actors in a submissive and frenzied state. In the “Making of Europa” an unseen narrator suggests that actors submitting working on a von Trier film will always find themselves under some blinding spell put forth by their Danish director. Perhaps this commitment to his audacious images is best represented in the moment where the director dons snorkeling gear and dives into a large tank to check the scenery of an underwater set-piece. (He’ll do this but refuses to fly!)
On the tail end of the video you’ll find another documentary. Trier’s Element is a TV special that further tracks the story of Europa to Cannes. “There should be a love story in a film” concedes von Trier, and perhaps the filmmaker has attempted a portrayal of something like love in his latest 2-part installment Nymphomaniac. Europa took home three awards from Cannes, including best artistic contribution, the Jury Prize, and the technical grand prize. At a press conference, he describes the film as something he’d be afraid to see — which is perhaps the best accolade that film can be awarded. To compliment this, be sure to also look at a rather unsettling short he’d completed at the age of 14, the Danish title of which translates into Why Try to Escape from Which You Know You Can’t Escape from? Because You Are a Coward! Also the same words he’d use to get a performance out of Björk. [Dangerous Minds]
Von Trier and his work will always be polarizing. He explains that the best audiences are the ones who “open themselves” to his films. Whether you love him or hate him, it’s worth taking a look at the process behind these creations.