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Director Ranked: Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier films are a bit of an oxymoron. They are avant garde, finding new ways to show us our own experiences, while at the same time classic, often opening with an overture moment. These films are realism, possibly too real for some, but shrouded in fantasy in both their stories and their filmmaking techniques. I was first introduced to von Trier's work by way of Björk appearing in Dancer in the Dark, which seems to have been a rather challenging collaboration. Still, I was immediately captivated by that film, and continuously impressed with his other films thereafter, though each more difficult than the last.

Some see von Trier as pretentious, a bit of an egoist and, as one…

  • Melancholia

    1.Melancholia

    ★★★★★

    Von Trier's cinematic study of depression is a beautiful film that is simultaneously quiet and epic. Kirsten Dunst might seem an unexpected choice for a von Trier film, but is perfectly cast as Justine, a melancholy woman at odds with her sister during an immensely emotional moment. Highlighted by stellar performances, incredibly moving cinematography and a forboding gloom, Melancholia goes down as von Trier's best work, inspired by his own dealings with depression. It perfectly encapsulates those imperfect feelings and moreover shows how strong those suffering with depression actually are.

    The Depression Trilogy - Part II

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  • Dancer in the Dark

    2.Dancer in the Dark

    ★★★★★

    Dancer in the Dark was my introduction to Lars von Trier and I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. It is indeed a rough one, all the while showing how little things can completely change your world and inspire you. The filming technique is a bold choice that creates a sort of improv'd or documentary feel, but nothing here is done by chance. It is a brilliantly executed unconventional musical and the icing on the cake is Björk who is absolutely riveting and raw as the innocent protagonist Selma.

    The Golden Heart Trilogy - Part III

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  • Europa

    3.Europa

    ★★★★½

    Lars von Trier gives more of a nod to classic cinema and Hitchcock in this Nazi suspense film for the senses. Shot with back projection screens to create a dreamy feel, Europa goes in and out of color, switches languages and masks what is real and what is not to turn the world of our protagonist on its head in a most confusing, hypnotizing and surreal way. It's nowhere near as gut wrenching as most of von Trier's films, but it still has moments of intensity, creative filmmaking and is certainly a visual feast.

    The Europa Trilogy - Part III

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  • The Element of Crime

    4.The Element of Crime

    ★★★★

    Lars von Trier's debut feature film is a film noir crime drama in the vein of Alphaville and Blade Runner. Lined up here are all of the early aspects that a von Trier film would later become known for, set in a dreamlike, monochromatic yellowish tint. It's not quite refined, nor should it be this early on in his career, but while it may seem incoherent in some moments, it is still breathtaking in others, and thought provoking always.

    The Europa Trilogy - Part I

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  • Dogville

    5.Dogville

    ★★★★

    Nicole Kidman delivers a great performance, as does everyone in this ensemble drama about a small American town that suddenly has a new visitor. It is a simple film for the likes of von Trier, with it’s scaled back theater-esque soundstage sets, but still very effective. It continues his theme of balancing gut wrenching realism within an extraordinary fantasy type of world, but does so here under the satirical pretense that American society is what it claims to be, hopeful and free. Von Trier’s critiques of American life prove to be an interesting take, especially from someone often at personal odds with traveling which results in a fantastical perspective, although not altogether wrong.

    The USA: Land of Opportunities Trilogy - Part I

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  • Breaking the Waves

    6.Breaking the Waves

    ★★★½

    Just a year after creating the Dogme 95 Manifesto alongside Director Thomas Vinterberg, von Trier's Breaking the Waves was released, starting his acclaimed Golden Heart Trilogy, and breaking him through to international success. While not a fully fledged Dogme 95 film itself, it does use many aspects of the manifesto to explore the childlike innocence and sturdy devotion of Bess played incredibly by Emily Watson. Von Trier’s style steadily becomes more and more raw, gritty and unfiltered with this trilogy, heightening the emotion and devastation of women whose hearts remain golden despite the tragedy they endure.

    The Golden Heart Trilogy - Part II

  • Epidemic

    7.Epidemic

    ★★★

    Von Trier’s second feature film, pushing the experimental even more so than his first, has some incredible moments, but they are too far between the things that don’t work, and the truly haunting ending might not be quite worth the slog to get there. Regardless, there are important steps being taken here. While The Element of Crime is very much and very obviously influenced by classic film works, Epidemic is very much and very obviously the product of von Trier honing into his own voice and his own style within the medium. There are glimpses of much of his work to come here, from his documentary style realism to his horrific surrealism. It’s a nice entry for anyone wanting to see the birth and progress of his work, but the films that come after are where he really gets to show off.

    The Europa Trilogy - Part II