Lars Von Trier
In "Hollywood's Best Film Directors," we go behind-the-scenes with some of Hollywood's biggest names. They talk about their lives and work, explaining what makes them so successful. The series includes heavy-hitters Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and M. Night Shyamalan, among others.
-Action. Got it. -Cut!
[ Clapperboard snaps ]
Narrator: Born in Denmark, this great director
came to international attention when the Cannes Film Festival
awarded his very first film "The Element of Crime."
Next came "Breaking the Waves,"
a huge success which was also awarded at Cannes
and garnered Emily Watson Best Actress nominations
at the BAFTA Awards, the Golden Globes,
and the Academy Awards.
In the year 2000,
"Dancer in the Dark" won the Golden Palm at Cannes
and the Best Actress prize for Bjork.
Because of his intense fear of flying,
he never went to Hollywood,
but brought Hollywood to him in 2000
when Nicole Kidman joined him
for his experimental film "Dogville,"
also featuring such names as Paul Bettany,
Ben Gazzara, and Lauren Bacall.
While in a deep depression, he wrote and directed
the dark and disturbing "Antichrist,"
starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg,
who won the Best Actress prize at Cannes.
And just a few years later, his leading actress Kirsten Dunst
would win the same award for "Melancholia."
Never ready to end innovation and provocation,
he followed that up
with the controversial "Nymphomaniac,"
featuring an impressive cast --
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard,
Willem Dafoe, Shia LaBeouf,
Christian Slater, and Uma Thurman.
Hello. My name is Lars von Trier,
and you're watching "Hollywood's Best Film Directors."
The very best.
We are in in Denmark.
I have to tell myself that all the time.
We have a film studio out here, an old army base.
We now have our company here,
which is a place we bought extremely cheap.
So, yeah, we're happy to be here.
There's a lot of space.
We have a sound stage and a lot of editing facility stuff.
And yeah, it's good to be here.
I grew up in the north of Copenhagen,
and I had an uncle
who was doing documentary films.
And every time I visited him,
I was very, very curious about the editing tables, you know,
and all this mechanical stuff,
and so there was no really --
Then I started doing 8mm films, even with sound.
And the technical side,
I always found extremely fascinating.
My parents were civil servants,
but they inspired me like, you know,
any mother inspires a son, you know.
I had a very, very nice upbringing
to the north of Copenhagen,
which is nice and green.
And my mother gave me this famous 8mm camera.
The camera was a very nice camera
because it had a lot of features.
You know, it could go slow motion.
It could go single frame.
You know, all these things had to be tried.
I was a loner, and...
I was a strange kid, of course.
And I loved the nature very much.
I spent a lot of time in the woods.
I of course saw films growing up.
Television was just about beginning in this country.
But I saw several films.
And first, I'm sure it was Disney, you know,
and even the non-animated stuff, you know.
I remember something called
"The Valley of Beavers" or something like that.
And I was completely fascinated. Completely fascinated.
And since I was reading, you know,Donald Duck,
it was called -- the magazine -- then it was 100% Disney.
So, I'm just trying, in my career,
to struggle a little bit away from the Disney line.
[ Camera shutter clicks ] Good.
I tried several times
to get to, you know, to get a pass
so I could get into the Danish film school,
which was very difficult, I thought.
And I think they saw me as a freak.
They might still do.
But it was --
Before that, I'd been making films in first 8mm
and then 16,
which costs a lot of money, of course, to, you know,
when I made films of an hour.
So, it was fantastic to come into the film school
and suddenly, you know, you get funded,
that you have your own stuff, material, and all of that.
But the first day when I came to the film school,
I was so nervous not to get in.
I was really -- you know, this was my third time.
And then when I got in,
I got straight down to the technical department
to get a spray
on a board outside the office of the headmaster.
I wrote "The film school is dead."
So, that's me.
[ Laughs ] Ah!
[ Laughter ]
The film school experience changed me a lot
since I met some photographer and then the editor
and we we stuck together, you know, the whole way through,
and that was fantastic.
We had a wonderful time.
I wouldn't say that the teaching there
was so fantastically great,
But this let you meet some guys that you really got along with.
And we've tried all the different stuff
and different lightings and different...
I think, yeah, it was a good time.
[ Eerie electronic music plays ]
My movies back then
were likely out of date very far.
And all the teachers said,
why do we make such dull films? [ Chuckles ]
And I said, "Well, maybe later,
they will be a little less dull."
Thank you. Beautiful.
And then we just do a close-up of -- Man: Yeah. Yeah.
Beautiful. Much better.
My first feature film is "Element of Crime."
And that is of some kind of a police story.
But we we made it at night in winter
with lots and lots of rain
with some special lamps
that that couldn't stand any rain at all, you know.
So everything was chaotic,
and, yeah, we're down in the sewers mostly, also,
so you can imagine.
I was very lucky because we have some consultants
that gives out money from the film institute.
And this consultant was very, very unpopular
with the film people here.
So, I saw my opportunity to kind of run there
while he had no projects.
So, he took the project.
I'm sure that's the only way in for me.
I was very confident
that everything should go smoothly.
It was -- I've never been afraid
of, you know, that a film wouldn't work
or should have been done another way.
No. No. No.
Yeah, maybe now, you know, when I'm getting older,
you think sometimes, "Ah. Was that wise?" You know?
But at that time, no, not at all.
I was just...all go.
[ Alarm blaring ]
"To push the envelope" is a good expression
because I think that you have to give everything you have
and to go as far as you want
because you never know if you're ever gonna make another film.
So it was just -- Yeah. Yeah. All the way.
We had relatively big scenes
with, you know, helicopters and stuff like that,
which was enormous fun.
A helicopter is the greatest toy,
you know, you can ever put your feet in.
But I think the film cost is a little bit too much.
So, everybody said to me after making such a dull film --
It was still dull. You know? [ Laughs ]
So they said after this dull film,
there will not be another dull film for you.
But as we all know, there were.
The luckiest thing that happened to me
was at the Cannes Film Festival.
Took the film and put it in the official competition
because that's something that you really in Denmark admire
is that you have some degree of success in another country.
And this was France. It was good.
Would have been better if in America.
But France, it's very good, and it helped me a lot.
And Cannes Festival has been there for me every time,
so I'm very happy.
And Gilles Jacob, you know, the leader then,
has been like a father to me.
-Action. Got it. -Cut!
[ Clapperboard snaps ]
Yeah, I've had a fragile mind, you could say.
So, I've had some depressions, and one of them,
the result of the depression was "Melancholia" the film.
I just remember looking at the sky and thinking,
"If the moon now comes and crashes into the Earth,
it's okay with me," right, which is unfair to my family.
But [Chuckles] you know, being so egoistic yourself.
So this, the film "Melancholia"
is about a planet crashing into Earth.
[ Vocalizing Offenbach's "Can Can Music" ]
"Antichrist" the film was based on some shamanic journeys
that I do now and then, you know, that's --
I don't know if you know,
but that's kind of an Indian thing
where you travel on the beat of a drum.
And so a lot of the pictures there,
for instance, the poor fox that has line
is from one of these journeys.
"Antichrist" was a cheaper film.
It was only these two persons.
And I must say, they were great to work with.
Willem is a wonderful person.
Normally, I have got quite good relationships
with my actors, and I stay in contact.
But Willem, we have stayed in contact for a long time.
And he is just a brilliant guy.
Pre-production from me has changed over the years.
In my first films, I made a lot of storyboarding
and was thinking every shot down to the last detail.
But I stopped that on the same reason
as I changed my way with the actors.
It's also that if you have
planned something too much, almost,
then you will get
maybe 70% of that, of what you dreamt.
But if you don't dream anything and you just go in,
improvise a little, let the technicians work,
let everybody work creatively,
then you might get much more than 70%.
Are they ready for greatness?
The casting on "Breaking the Waves" was, uh...
We were meant to do the film with Helena Bonham Carter,
and then she couldn't do it.
And we were really -- we had some problems
because we were about to shoot, and very shortly.
And then we did.
They did casting for us in London, and we went there.
And then we saw Emily come in onstage in bare feet,
and there was no doubt
that she would be our Bess in the film.
I think she really did a very good job
on "Breaking the Waves."
I've been working with Stellan Skarsgard
and he's a very good friend.
We talk on the phone once a week,
and, yeah, I really like him.
He's a big guy, but he has this gentle way
of, acting and of --
Also, when he's not acting, he's --
Yeah. He's become a very good friend.
I'm quite sure that Nicole was asking
if there was a part for her in this film.
I don't think she was ever in doubt if she wanted to do it.
She was and she is a very, very hardworking woman.
But all these actors are so good,
so I can only praise them, you know.
Yeah, it was a gift.
Thank you very much.
I think that especially the female actors
are relatively easy to cast
because I think that I do parts
that are a little different from what they do normally.
The male parts, maybe not that good and interesting.
I think we had another actor in mind,
but then we were making inquiries in America,
and then Kirsten just said, "Yes I want to do it."
And that's what you really need to know
is somebody wants to do the film that you want to do.
So, it was fantastic. Yeah.
I always had the dream to make porn film.
So, that's, you know -- that's a very Danish thing.
So, I thought maybe I could do that
and of course do it my own way.
But then again, I was a little reluctant to start.
But then my DP said to me,
"I don't think you should do like other older directors,
that the girls get younger and younger
and with more and more bare skin.
You know, that was enough for me.
You know, I take very little,
like, provocation to get started.
So straight away, they got very young.
I don't remember it to be very difficult
to have to get the actors for this film.
I never really had problems getting actors
because we pay very little.
So, you know, if they come,
you know that they are there for the part and for the film
and not for, anyway, not for the money.
"Breaking the Waves" was actually an experiment
in the sense that I would like to reintroduce
sentimentality in film, in Danish films,
as, you know --
Sentimentality for my parents and for a lot of Danes
were terrible nonsense.
You know, you shouldn't go there.
So I tried to be as sentimental with this film as I could
and to see how that would work
and if people would kind of eat the story raw or whatever.
And it was also the first film
where I really started working on the direction of the actors.
And this was very good actors this time.
[ Indistinct conversations ]
Of course, it's always difficult
to shoot film, like "Dancer in the Dark"
when you have Bjork there that disappears.
You know, and surely enough, she disappeared
when we had all the people ready on the train.
We had closed the train line.
We had put another train there.
We put a lot of dancers, blah blah blah,
and everything was ready.
And who was gone? Bjork was gone.
And so that makes it always difficult.
This is one of the points
that you shouldn't say what's in your mind
because her big breasts, of course,
was the most -- [ Laughs ]
Kirsten Dunst was a terrific actor
and wonderful to work with and beautiful.
The idea of these stripes on the floor was very clear,
but it was difficult because I think we were
maybe 100 people on the crew,
and as soon as we should film -- I filmed it myself --
I had a mic here. I had a lamp here.
The only thing I was missing was this big drum
on the back -- you know, boom boom.
And then every time we started,
I said "Ready for our picture" or something like that,
Then Lauren Bacall would say, "Just a second."
And then I would have to run,
you know, this half kilometer down to her.
And then she would say, "Which part of my back
would you like to film today, Mr. Director?"
And it was like this all the time
because we had a lot of funny people.
But, you know,
when you're carrying a really heavy camera,
it's not so funny all the time.
But she was funny, of course.
157, take three.
"Europa" was was challenging in the way that --
It was shot in Poland, most of it,
because half --
or, no, one third of the railroads in Poland
were on steam still.
And there were, of course, a lot of ruins and stuff
that we could use.
The story of "Europa" had to do with
a phenomenon called Werewolf
that was supposed to be an army of Hitler Youth
that after the war would kind of make sabotage and stuff.
[ Speaking foreign language ]
So at a certain point, they found out
these extras, the costume they were wearing,
were worth more than the money they would get for it,
so that meant that they started to disappear,
and we had to kind of hold on
to the few ones that are left
and film them several times to have enough.
You're in my seat.
No, this is mine. I play for you.
"Dancer in the Dark" is again an example
that you can't fool the United States
because I had this idea.
I know I will never get a normal Oscar, right?
But if I now choose a category
where there was almost no films --
So, I said, "Ah, a musical. That must be the thing."
Because I knew that there were still at that time --
I don't know if there is still --
a special Oscar for musicals.
And I said, "That fits me fine."
And then when they saw the film,
they said it wasn't a musical.
And of course they had found me out
that this was a trick.
But still, how how can you call this film not a musical?
They sing, they dance,
they, you know, do anything like in a musical.
But the Oscar people were too smart for me,
so I didn't get the Oscar.
I was very happy when Bjork got the award in Cannes
for for Best Actor.
[ Applause ]
-Thank you. -Cut.
I remember Shia.
And he --
He wanted to do the sex for real.
That was very important for him.
And I said, "I'm sorry. We -- We have --
I don't think that the women would like that as much as you."
So nobody -- He was good.
But he wanted to go all the way, of course,
so I had to stop him.
[ Laughs ]
He is a crazy man, but very funny.
-Action. Got it. -Cut!
[ Clapperboard snaps ]
Yeah, "Dogville" is the one film
that I'm proudest of that I've made
because I think that it has some qualities,
but also, I think that at that time when we did that,
I couldn't see anywhere else in the world
the film would be produced, you know,
because it is, of course, not a very commercial idea
just to draw all the houses on the floor.
But I think, story-wise, that it works very well.
And Nicole was fantastic.
My son has just started watching films.
And I'm very proud
that he's now been in the cinema for the third time
to see "Blade Runner."
And "Blade Runner" has a special place in my heart.
It's definitely among my top 10 films,
and it is still a masterpiece.
I have very many American films.
I have Orson Welles -- you know, "Touch of Evil" --
and I have some Russian films by Tarkovsky.
And then, of course, I have Scorsese and Coppola,
which are masters.
I'm quite fond of what I've done so far.
The most important thing for me is to be brave enough
to go as far as I can, you know,
and take all these ideas to their maximum.
That's important for me
because I think then maybe,
you know, for instance, when we did "Element of Crime,"
we worked in a style
that was very avant garde-ish at that time.
But a few years later
comes, you know, I think "Alien" number two or three
or something like that.
It was exactly the same surroundings.
So you can only see
that something that is avant garde at one point --
if there are any use of it in commercial film,
it will be used.
So I see this my doing, a little bit like a laboratory,
you know, experimental,
and some some of the things can be used later in other films,
some things can't.
I would be lying if I said I didn't like it
when people come up to me and say
that they like the things I've been doing.
But of course, if it's people you know
and that you admire,
then of course it's even better.
But film students and critics --
Of course, I'm very happy,
and they make me think
that I've done something with my life.
[ Applause ]