In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Lars von Trier

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Interviews
  • Screenplays and Resources for Recent Films
  • Critical Monographs

Cinema and Media Studies Lars von Trier
Caroline Bainbridge
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0159


Lars von Trier has attracted a great deal of critical commentary since the release of his first feature film, The Element of Crime, in 1984. Much of this is notably focused on the director himself—his status as the arch provocateur or enfant terrible of contemporary cinema has ensured that this is the case. Hjort 2011 (cited under General Overviews) offers an excellent account of what is at stake in von Trier’s adoption of this position, reflecting on his provocation of journalists at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. This book chapter provides an important foundation for understanding the degree of outrage expressed in response to the director, which came to a head in 2011 at the Melancholia press conference at Cannes, when he claimed to sympathize with Hitler. Despite this capacity for self-promotion, there is a striking breadth of interest in the achievements of this director across his extensive work in both cinema and television. Critical approaches to his oeuvre derive from both expected sources such as film theory, and entirely unexpected ones such as management studies. The scope of critical enquiry goes some way toward indicating the importance of von Trier’s work in recent cinema history but also highlights his influence in terms of shaping popular cultural debates about gender, the capacity of cinema to evoke affect and emotional experience, and philosophical discussions of ethics and political community. The importance of von Trier’s contribution to cultural life becomes apparent here, and the critical commentary on his work to date lends itself to an impressive gamut of scholarship. Lars Trier was born on 30 April 1956 in Copenhagen, Denmark. He studied at the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of Copenhagen from 1976 through 1979 and later at the National Film School of Demark (1979–1982), where he added “von” to his surname. He is a cofounder of Zentropa, the Danish production company. With Thomas Vinterberg and others, he founded the Dogme95 movement (see Television Projects and Documentary/Dogme95). Many of von Trier’s films have won international prizes, including the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for Dancer in the Dark; the Prix du Jury (Cannes) for Breaking the Waves; and best actress awards (Cannes) for performances by Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist and Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia.

General Overviews

Lars von Trier has attracted both popular and critical commentary since the beginning of his career. As a result, introductory material on his work ranges from the work of Stevenson 2002, which has a journalistic slant, to that of Hjort 2002, which offers a rigorous academic perspective. Both approaches furnish readers with important background information, helping to illuminate the genesis of interest in von Trier and his own personal motivations. There are several documentaries about von Trier, including Björkman 1997 and Jargil 1998, Jargil 2000, and Jargil 2002, all of which offer engaging documentary representations of von Trier’s work and development as a director. Lasko 2000 explores the political response to von Trier’s treatment of disability in Idioterne.

  • Björkman, Stig, dir. Tranceformer: A Portrait of Lars von Trier. VHS. Stockholm: AB Memfis Film and Television, 1997.

    Documentary about von Trier’s life and work made over a two-year period. Includes extracts from his early works.

  • Hjort, Mette. “Lars von Trier.” In Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers. Edited by Yvonne Tasker, 400–409. London: Routledge, 2002.

    A comprehensive introduction to the director’s work, cinematic ethos, and creative production endeavor, this critical dictionary entry also examines the persona of von Trier and his deployment of provocation as artistic orchestration.

  • Hjort, Mette. “The Problem with Provocation: On Lars von Trier, Enfant Terrible of Danish Art Film.” KINEMA: A Journal for Film and Audiovisual Media (Fall 2011).

    Excellent overview of von Trier’s role as a provocateur, featuring extensive discussion of the controversial claims to Nazi sympathy expressed at the press conference for Melancholia at Cannes in 2011.

  • Jargil, Jesper, dir. De ydmygede. 35mm film. Copenhagen: Jesper Jargil Film/Danish Film Institute, 1998.

    This film (The Humiliated) is the first in a trilogy made by Jargil documenting the birth of the Dogme95 movement. It follows the making of Idioterne, portraying von Trier’s emotive relationship to the creative process.

  • Jargil, Jesper, dir. De udstillede. 35mm film. Copenhagen: Jesper Jargil Film/Danish Film Institute, 2000.

    Documentary (The Exhibited) about von Trier’s art installation, Psychomobile #1: The World Clock, and the roots of the blurring of boundaries between fiction and reality that subsequently shape Dogme95.

  • Jargil, Jesper, dir. De lutrede. 35mm film. Copenhagen: Jesper Jargil Film/Danish Film Institute, 2002.

    Documentary (The Purified) about the four Danish founders of the Dogme95 movement, including von Trier, Thomas Vinterburg, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, and Kristian Levring. Examines the artists’ intentions and explores the production of their films, questioning their motivations when they fail to meet their objectives or conform to their self-imposed rules.

  • Lasko, Claire, dir. Playing the Fool. TV documentary. London: Dual Purpose Production, 2000.

    Television documentary made in the wake of debate about Idioterne in which disabled people challenge von Trier about his assumption that anything can be depicted on film.

  • Stevenson, Jack. Lars von Trier. London: British Film Institute, 2002.

    For the nonspecialist reader or enthusiast, this book provides a useful entry point into thinking about the work of von Trier. Written in a highly journalistic (tabloid) style, it provides background information on the director.

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