Chaos Reigns: Three Films By Lars von Trier on Mubi Canada

Posted in Mubi by - April 18, 2023
Chaos Reigns: Three Films By Lars von Trier on Mubi Canada

Lars von Trier likes to build relationships between his characters only to tear them down in the most brutal fashion. Cinephiles and critics say that he doesn’t love humanity. Three days out of a week I’ll agree with that statement. I’m feeling frisky today though and am up for debate against my dozens of readers and a few less who may actually reply to this. There have been a lot of auteurs that leftist film Twitter has cancelled and for good reason. But there’s a part of me that defends von Trier. He may be a creep but he’s one of my creeps. Mubi has been acquiring his films one at a time, and this month they’re putting three of his on their platform. Two of the films are part of a trilogy that will only have two parts.

And the third is a… comedy? Let’s start with the first part of the broken trilogy first, starting with Dogville, about Grace Mulligan (Nicole Kidman), a fugitive of the law coming onto the titular town – village. Grace, then, is one half of a tender but eventually destructive relationship with the villagers (Paul Bettany, etc.). John Hurt narrates the story that has a prologue, 9 acts, and an epilogue. Is this a masterwork of deconstructed cinema, or does von Trier just use this as shorthand to lure in impressionable undergrads? Is this Kidman’s best performance, or does Grace just go through a lot? Which, by the way, segue 1, I can go on a Nicole Kidman rabbit hole –  ha! – that could be as deep as a real rabbit hole or a puddle. Same goes for Cleo King.

Segue 2, great cinematography, even during the Dogville‘s first and most brutal sexual assault scene. Anyway, these elements don’t succeed without great execution, but thankfully, and subjectively, von Trier pulls it off. And he is saying something with this movie that may carry over with his other work. This is an angry movie, but there’s a difference between anger and wrath. We, people, in real life, feel anger the same way the villagers in this film. They’re occasionally angry against each other for the minutest slights but they forgive each other. They’re angry towards Grace, and Grace unleashes her eventual wrath to these villagers because they never accept each other as part of each other’s in group. Von Trier may be a sadist but there’s realism in the way he displays human relationships in this film.

This is the part of the piece where I may take back many of the nice things I wrote about von Trier because this is the part where I write about Dogville‘s sequel, Manderlay. He wrote Manderlay for Kidman but she dropped out for reasons. This is also the part where I speculate that Kidman, as someone who adopted a Black child she can’t speak to, probably felt uncomfortable in playing Grace again. same goes for her discomfort during The Paperboy, which Lee Daniels shades her on in The Butler. I abstain on telling you who’s right, and speaking of abstaining….

This version of Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a woman who enters an illegal Jim Crow-era plantation. Said plantation, also, is full of Black people (inc. Isaach de Bankole) who exist to mess with her. This film has its defenders but I agree with early reactions that maybe von Trier has no business making a film about the Jum Crow era South. Why tackle this subject matter if he can’t even light his Black actors properly? Outside of that, his art design and visuals are more 50/50 in depicting a post plantation. He uses a lot of soft focus here and I prefer Dogville‘s clearer photography. The set is also bigger which at least captures the dust storm that messes with Grace’s plans.

The Boss of It All may not have the same Hollywood cast and bare sets as Dogville and Manderlay. But the themes are present in this low budget comedy that uses the Danish cast whom von Trier relied on during his early work. Here, Kristoffer (Jens Albinus) gets his craziest acting job as the boss of an IT sales company. That’s because the real boss (Peter Gantzler) wants to sell the company to some Icelandic guy (Friðrik Þór Friðriksson) without his underlings being mad at him. A second act inclusion, Kristoffer’s ex who happens to be a lawyer (Sofie Gråbøl), highlights Ravn’s more cutthroat side. The execution is lacking here, as the camera cuts every line which feels distracting.

It’s as if von Trier wants to make the least organic film possible, interrupting the flow that mainstream films have, even if he’s tackling subjects that viewers normally find in mainstream comedies. One last note. It feels homophobic that I chose to write about von Trier. Mubi is also having a Merchant Ivory mini retrospective, mind you. Strangely enough, The Boss of It All is the reason I chose to write about the platform’s von Trier releases. It’s always interesting to see how the guy works even if his experiments are successful or not. I don’t mind if he never works again, but I’m glad that the cinematic gods introduced me to him at the right time.

Dogville and Manderlay are now available on MUBI. The Boss of It All comes to the platform on April 29.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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