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Lars von Trier (born Lars Trier, April 30, 1956) is a Danishmarker film director and screenwriter. He is closely associated with the Dogme 95 collective, although his own films have taken a variety of different approaches.

Life and career

Lars Trier was born in Copenhagenmarker to Ulf and Inger Trier. His parents considered themselves both communists and committed nudists, and the young Lars went on several childhood holidays to nudist camps. They regarded the disciplining of children as hopelessly reactionary. Trier notes that he was brought up in an atheist family, and that although his stepfather was Jewish, he was not religious. (He did not discover the identity of his biological father until 1995.) His parents did not allow much room in their household for "feelings, religion, or enjoyment," and also refused to make any rules for their children, with complex results for von Trier's personality and development. The young Lars found in cinema an outlet to the outside world through which he could learn about subjects otherwise forbidden from his study by his parents. He began making his own films at the age of 11 after receiving a Super-8 camera as a gift and continued to be involved in independent moviemaking throughout his high school years.

In 1979 he was enrolled in the Danish Film School. During his time as a student at the school he made the films Nocturne (Nocturne, 1980) and Image of Liberation (Befrielsesbilleder, 1982), both of which won Best Film awards at the Munich Film Festival, along with The Last Detail (Den sidste detalje 1981). His peers at the film school nicknamed him "von Trier." The name is sort of an inside-joke with the von part suggesting nobility, while Lars and Trier are quite common names in Denmark. He reportedly kept the "von" name in homage to Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg, both of whom also added it later in life. He graduated from film school in 1983.

The Europa trilogy

After graduation he began work on the Europe-trilogy, which started with a cerebral serial killer drama, The Element of Crime (Forbrydelsens element 1984). The film, which won a technical award at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker, was extremely stylized and marked a radical departure from normal Danish cinema.

This film was followed by Epidemic (1987), which was also shown as part of the official programme at Cannes. The film is partly a dark science fiction-tale of a future plague epidemic, and partly chronicles two filmmakers (played by Lars von Trier and screenwriter Niels Vørsel) preparing that film, with the two storylines ultimately colliding.

For television von Trier directed Medea (1988), which won the Jean d'Arcy prize in Francemarker. It was based on a screenplay by Carl Th. Dreyer and starred Udo Kier.

He completed the Europe-trilogy in 1991 with Europa (released as Zentropa in the U.S.), which won the Prix du Jury at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival and picked up awards at other major festivals.

In 1990 he also directed the music video for the worldwide hit "Bakerman" by Laid Back. This video was reused in 2006 by the English DJ and artist Shaun Baker who did a remake of Bakerman.

Zentropa and The Kingdom

In 1992 he co-founded together with producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen the movie production company Zentropa Entertainment, named after their most recent film at the time. The reason for doing this was to achieve financial independence and to have total creative control. The production company has produced many movies other than von Trier's own as well as television series. It is also the world's only mainstream film studio to have produced hardcore sex films: Constance (1998), Pink Prison (1999), HotMen CoolBoyz (2000) and All About Anna (2005).

In order to make money for his newly founded company, he made The Kingdom (Riget, 1994) and The Kingdom II (Riget II, 1997), a pair of miniseries recorded in the Danish national hospital, the name "Riget" being a colloquial name for the hospital known as Rigshospitaletmarker (lit. The Kingdom's Hospital) in Danish. A projected third installment in the series has been derailed due to the death of Ernst-Hugo Järegård, who played Helmer, one of the major characters.


In 1995, von Trier's mother revealed on her deathbed that the man who he thought was his father was not, and that she had had a tryst with her former employer, a man named Fritz Michael Hartmann, who descended from a long line of Roman Catholic classical musicians, in order to give her son "artistic genes." After four awkward meetings with his real father, the man refused further contact. The revelations led von Trier to attempt to "erase" the connections with his stepfather by converting to Catholicism, and to rework his filmmaking into a style emphasizing "honesty".

In 1995, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg presented their manifesto for a new cinematic movement which they called Dogme 95. It would however take a while before the first of these films appeared, and at this point many thought of the concept mainly as a radical idea with no future.

Von Trier's next film, Breaking the Waves (1996) which won the Grand Prix at Cannesmarker, features Emily Watson, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Its grainy images and hand-held photography pointed towards Dogme95. Breaking the Waves is the first film in von Trier's 'Golden Heart Trilogy' which also includes The Idiots (1998) and Dancer in the Dark (2000).

Also in 1996, von Trier conducted an unusual theatrical experiment in Copenhagen involving 53 actors, which he titled Psychomobile 1 – The World Clock. A documentary chronicling the project was directed by Jesper Jargil, and was released in 2000 with the title De Udstillede (The Exhibited).

Lars von Trier made his own contribution to the Dogme95-movement with The Idiots (Idioterne, 1998), and even overcame his dislike of traveling to present it in person at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker, where it was nominated for a Palme d'Or.

As originator of the Dogme95-concept, which has led to international interest in Danish film as a whole, he has inspired filmmakers all over the world.

Explicit images

Lars von Trier's use of sexually explicit images in The Idiots (1998) started a wave of arthouse mainstream films with unsimulated sex, such as Catherine Breillat's Romance (1999), Baise-Moi (2000), Intimacy (2001), Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny (2003) and Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs (2004).

In 1998, Lars von Trier also made history by having his company Zentropa be the world's first mainstream film company to produce hardcore pornographic films. Three of these films, Constance (1998), Pink Prison (1999) and the adult/mainstream crossover-feature All About Anna (2005), were made primarily for a female audience, and were extremely successful in Europe, with the first two being directly responsible for the March 2006 legalizing of pornography in Norwaymarker.

Lars von Trier's initiative spearheaded a European wave of female-friendly porn films from directors such as Anna Span, Erika Lust and Petra Joy, while von Trier's company Zentropa was forced to abandon the experiment due to pressure from English business partners. In July 2009, women's magazine Cosmopolitan ranked Pink Prison as #1 in its Top Five of the best women’s porn, calling it the "role model for the new porn-generation". Lars von Trier would return to explicit images in his self-directed Antichrist (2009), exploring darker themes.

The 2000s

In 2000, von Trier premiered a musical featuring Icelandicmarker musician Björk, Dancer in the Dark. The film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. The song "I've Seen It All" (which Trier co-wrote) received an Academy Award nomination for Best Song.

The Five Obstructions (2003), made by Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth, is a documentary, but also incorporates lengthy sections of experimental films. The premise is that Lars von Trier challenges director Jørgen Leth, his friend and mentor, to remake his old experimental filmThe Perfect Human (1967) five times, each time with a different 'obstruction' (or obstacle) specified by von Trier.

He then directed two films in his announced 'U.S. trilogy': Dogville (2003), starring Nicole Kidman as gangster daughter Grace, and Manderlay (2005), starring Bryce Dallas Howard in the same role. Both films are extremely stylized, with the actors playing their parts on a nearly empty soundstage with little but chalk marks on the floor to indicate the sets. Both films had huge casts of major international actors (Harriet Andersson, Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe, etc.), and questioned various issues relating to American society, such as intolerance in Dogville and slavery in Manderlay.

Controversy erupted on the 2004 set for "Manderlay" when actor John C. Reilly walked off the Trollhattan, Sweden, set in late March. Reilly walked off the film when he learned that an upcoming scene involved the slaughter of a donkey for food. The film's producer says the animal -- who was old and not expected to live much longer was killed off camera by a certified veterinarian, in accordance with Swedish law. Reilly, who was applauded by animal rights activists everywhere, was replaced by Zeljko Ivanek.

The U.S. was also the scene for Dear Wendy (2005), a feature film directed by von Trier's "Dogme-brother" Thomas Vinterberg from a script by von Trier. It starred Jamie Bell and Bill Pullman and dealt with gun worship. Both Manderlay and Dear Wendy failed to attract much of an audience, and were along with other simultaneous flops from important local directors perceived as confirmation of a creative crisis in Danish cinema.

In 2006 von Trier released a Danish-language comedy film, The Boss of it All. It was shot using a process that von Trier has called Automavision, which involves the director choosing the best possible fixed camera position and then allowing a computer to randomly choose when to tilt, pan or zoom.

It was followed by an autobiographical film, De unge år: Erik Nietzsche sagaen del 1 (2007), scripted by von Trier but directed by Jacob Thuesen, which tells the story of von Trier's years as a student at the National Film School of Denmark. It stars Jonatan Spang as von Trier's alter ego, called "Erik Nietzsche", and is narrated by von Trier himself. All main characters in the film are based on real people from the Danish film industry, with the thinly veiled portrayals including Jens Albinus as director Nils Malmros, Dejan Cukic as screenwriter Mogens Rukov and Søren Pilmark in an especially unflattering portrayal as sex obsessed school principal Henning Camre.

Lars von Trier's latest feature film is a horror movie, Antichrist, about "a grieving couple who retreat to their cabin in the woods, hoping a return to Eden will repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage; but nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse." The film, which has sexually explicit content, stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It premiered in competition at the 2009 Cannes Film Festivalmarker, where the festival's jury honoured the movie by giving the Best Actress award to Charlotte Gainsbourg The Cannes Film Festival ecumenical jury, which gives prizes for movies that promote spiritual, humanist and universal values, also "honored" the film with a special "anti-award," given to the film for its alleged misogynist content . Von Trier's next work is Melancholia, a psychological disaster drama., the budget for the movie is 5 Million €uro ($7 million) and is set for an European shoot 2010.


Von Trier suffers from multiple phobias, including an intense fear of flying. As the director once put it, "Basically, I'm afraid of everything in life, except filmmaking." His fear of air travel frequently places severely limiting constraints on him and his crew, necessitating that virtually all of his films be shot in either Denmark or Swedenmarker, even those set in the United Statesmarker or other foreign countries. Von Trier has had a number of his films featured at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker over the course of his career, and each time has insisted on driving from Denmark to Francemarker for the festival and back.

On numerous occasions von Trier has also stated that he suffers from occasional depression which renders him incapable of performing his work and unable to uphold social relations.

Filming techniques

Lars von Trier has said that “a film should be like a stone in your shoe”. In order to create original art he feels that filmmakers must distinguish themselves stylistically from other films, often by placing restrictions on the filmmaking process. The most famous restriction is the cinematic "vow of chastity" of the Dogme95 movement with which he is associated, though only one of his films, The Idiots, is an actual Dogme 95 film. In Dancer in the Dark, dramatically-different color palettes and camera techniques were used for the "real world" and musical portions of the film, and in Dogville everything was filmed on a sound stage with no set where the walls of the buildings in the fictional town were marked as a line on the floor.

Von Trier often shoots digitally and operates the camera himself, preferring to continuously shoot the actors in-character without stopping between takes. In Dogville he let actors stay in character for hours, in the style of method acting. These techniques often put great strain on actors, most famously with Björk during the filming of Dancer in the Dark. Often he uses the same regular group of actors in many of his films - some of his frequently used actors are Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier and Stellan Skarsgård.

He is heavily influenced by the work of Carl Theodor Dreyer and the film The Night Porter. He was so inspired by the short film The Perfect Human directed by Jørgen Leth that he challenged Leth to redo the short five times in feature film The Five Obstructions.


Von Trier has on occasion referred to his films as falling into thematic and stylistic trilogies. This pattern began with his first feature film, marking the beginning of The Europa Trilogy, though he claims a trilogy was not initially planned, instead being applied to the films in retrospect. The Europe trilogy illuminated the traumas of Europe in the past and future. This trilogy includes The Element of Crime (1984), Epidemic (1988) and Europa (1991).

The Golden Heart trilogy was about naive heroines who maintain their 'golden hearts' despite the tragedies they experience. This trilogy includes Breaking the Waves (1996), The Idiots (1998) and Dancer in the Dark (2000). While all three films are sometimes associated with the Dogme 95 movement, only The Idiots is a certified Dogme 95 film.

The USA - Land of Opportunities trilogy follows the character of Grace, and is set in a stylized American past. Von Trier has stated he was inspired to make a trilogy about the United States as a reaction to Americans at the Cannes film festival who said he had no right to make the Dancer in the Dark, which was often viewed as being critical of a country he has never been to (and has no intention of ever visiting, due to his phobia of travel); however, von Trier himself has stated in interviews he did not intend it to be a criticism of America, saying the film takes place in a "fictional America." Lars von Trier proposed the films as ‘a series of sermons on America’s sins and hypocrisy’, inspired by the fact that American movie makers have made many movies about places across the world to which they have not travelled. All three movies will be shot in the same distinctive style, on a bare sound stage with no set and buildings marked by lines on the floor. This style is inspired by 1970s televised theatre. The trilogy will consist of Dogville (2003), Manderlay (2005) and the so far unproduced Wasington.

The Kingdom (Riget) was planned as a trilogy of three seasons with 13 episodes in total, but the third season was not filmed due to death of star Ernst-Hugo Järegård shortly after completion of the second season.

Feature filmography

Television filmography

Short filmography


  1. In "Trier on von Trier", by Stig Bjorkman, 2005
  2. See here. An article by Karen Durbin in the Good Weekend, titled "Every Dane has his Dogma," and dated 17 June 2000, states (p. 35): "Von Trier is a red-nappy baby. His mother was a Communist, his father a Social Democrat, and both worked in Denmark's social services ministry. They met during World War II in Sweden after fleeing the Nazi occupation of Denmark, 'my father because he was Jewish and my mother because she was in the Resistance.' They were also dedicated nudists (although less so than the relative von Trier describes who kept his apartment warm and 'was always completely naked, on principle'). His childhood included occasional holidays at nudist camps. 'It was very strange,' he says. 'Kind of charming'." In the book, Lars von Trier: Interviews (edited by Jan Lumholdt), von Trier makes numerous references to his "culturally radical" upbringing and its consequences, for instance the following (p. 109): "Religion was totally forbidden, and it has always interested me. At the same time I'm a neurotic person and my biggest problem in life is control or the lack of control. [...] As a child, you create all kinds of rituals to maintain control. I was very scared of the atom bomb, so every night when I went to bed I had to perform all these rituals to save the world. And from a psychological point of view, religion is a continuation of these childhood rituals, which are there to prevent everything from reverting back to chaos." And (on p. 116), von Trier explains the consequences of his unusual upbringing for his adult and professional life: "I think that these ideas about control and chaos stem from my upbringing, which was unbelievably lax. There were no rules whatsoever, which creates a lot of problems, like deciding when you should go to the dentist, because everything's up to you yourself. And in that case, you end up not getting things done and that creates a lot of anxiety. I also had to force myself to do my homework, because no one told me when I had to do it. When there's nobody to enforce discipline upon you, then you have to enforce it from within. That, in return, has made me incredibly disciplined at my work today—I work all the time. But at the same time it's a tremendous source of anxiety that everything is your decision. Of course this has given me great faith in my own creativity—almost like a christening gift."
  3. Biography
  4. The Tomb: Lars von Trier Interview
  5. Lars von Trier fan site biography
  6. Stranger than fiction Sydney Morning Herald, 2003-12-22
  7. Norwegian Media Authority none-censorship decision
  8. Thomas Vilhelm: Filmbyen (Ekstra Bladets Forlag, 2003), ISBN 978-87-7731-274-8, page 74
  9. Cosmopolitan (German edition), July 2009, page 30
  10. The Five Obstructions (2003) | FILM REVIEW; A Cinematic Duel of Wits For Two Danish Directors
  12. Børsen: 1990'ernes filmfest er forbi
  13. Tod Hunter at Xbiz: Zentropa Gets Explicit Movie Into Cannes
  14. Cannes jury gives its heart to works of graphic darkness
  15. [1]
  16. Lars Von Trier has Melancholia
  17. No More Happy Endings for Lars von Trier, End of the World Coming!

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