Filmmaker Lars von Trier remains his own worst enemy. That was one of the obvious takeaways from an engrossing but also slightly concerning new discussion with the polarizing director.
In a rare interview given this month to the in-house TV channel of Denmark’s arts platform The Louisiana Museum, a pale, hirsute and subdued von Trier discussed his on-going battle with addiction and his now infamous expulsion from Cannes in 2011.
“I felt horrible during filming for this film, and that’s not anyone’s fault but my own,” explains the Palme d’Or-winning director about making his new movie The House That Jack Built, which will debut next month on the Riviera. Von Trier’s battles with anxiety and addiction have been documented in the past and they don’t seem to have dissipated.
“I was just anxious, alcoholized and so on,” continues the director, whose appearance and tone is markedly different from the sprightly and mischievous character we have come to know. “Now I’m in all sorts of associations where I’m trying to reach sobriety. But it’s hard. It’s really hard… Alcohol is self-medicating, and sadly, insanely effective. The problem is when the alcohol level drops the anxiety hits you even harder. It’s a non-solution.”
The maverick director has previously spoken of his need to drink in order to create. But he doesn’t expect to return to feature filmmaking in the near future. “I can’t face making a film,” confirms the 61-year-old. Instead he plans to make a series of short black and white films. “Then I’m going to work with Nordic actors because there are so many good ones.”
One of the few times the Dogville and Antichrist helmer rekindles his famously naughty glint is when describing how he and others would “drink schnapps in massive quantities at Nordisk Film.” When his interviewer, Peter Schepelern from the University of Copenhagen, asks the arch-provocateur if he still ‘teases’, von Trier decides to once again set the record straight about his ill-judged comments from Cannes in 2011.
“If I can get away with it. But I tease very little. If we’re going to talk about the whole Hitler affair, which I would like to say a few words about, you’ve seen the press conference a few times and I think it was destroyed by the moderator because he didn’t let me clean up after myself. That last, ‘Well ok then I’m a Nazi’, that’s something you say to each other when you’re in a discussion and the other won’t give up and you say it just to give in… Of course I’m not a Nazi. I’d like to say absolutely unequivocally that I don’t approve of any of Hitler’s actions. I abhor his callousness and brutality. He was a piece of shit.”
In the wide ranging interview, which coincided with the director being awarded Denmark’s most prestigious cultural award, the Sonning Prize, von Trier discusses how film festival juries select winners. According to the filmmaker, top prizes often go to “middle of the road movies because everyone must agree.” A case in point was his Palme d’Or in 2000 for Dancer In The Dark, he suggests, which was given more for his “process and body of work” than the film itself.
The director’s muted manner is somewhat poignant to observe, perhaps especially for those who have encountered addiction. As with many artists, von Trier’s demons clearly drive him on but are also his Achilles heel. The filmmaker was never less than thought-provoking in what he had to say, however, especially about his working habits. The auteur talked about his need for single-mindedness and how he often feels like “an explorer who has been dropped on a desert island and told to go east.” That led to one of his most memorable lines from the discussion: “I try to avoid watching new movies. Because the worst thing that could happen, would be that I got excited about something.”
The director did not address comments from his Dancer In The Dark protagonist Bjork that she was harassed by a Danish filmmaker. Von Trier has previously denied his role in any such claim. Neither did he touch on last year’s claims of workplace bullying at Zentropa, the Scandi production powerhouse he co-founded in 1992.