Lars Van Trier TIFF Lightbox

Lars von Trier makes waves at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

Love him or hate him, you can't call him boring. Lars von Trier, or as they now call him at Cannes, persona non grata is a crafty director, with a vision and an attitude toward cinema that sets him apart form the pack, a fact which is highlighted at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this month. Waiting for the End of the World is a selection of Trier's significant works made up of dramas and manifestos from his dynamic and divisive career.

This retrospective comes at an interesting time for Trier, just as he's embraced silence, refusing to speak publicly after his Hitler jokes at Cannes while promoting Melancholia this spring. It shouldn't be a surprise that Trier's latest faux pas happened at Cannes — all of the significant moments in his career have taken place there. His first work, The Element of Crime won a technical award in 1984, Europa won the Jury Prize in 1991, Breaking the Waves received the Grand Prix in 1996 and he secured the Palme d'Or with Dancer in the Dark in 2000. But the highlight reel ends there.

His current situation brings questions about the separation between an artist and his work. Is a film's merit enough? Do we need to support the actions of a filmmaker to appreciate his or her work? This question has come up with Riefenstahl and Polanski in the past, and now with Trier. Regardless of your answer, he may or may not be the greatest director in the world, but he is definitely one of the most interesting.

Trier's first film embraces film noir elements to tell the story of Fisher, a run-down cop suffering from headaches and amnesia who heads to a hypnotist to help clear his mind. While under hypnosis, Fisher relives his investigation into a serial killer who had been targeting lottery girls in 'Europe.' The world he encounters is a dark and frayed version of the Europe he remembers, a surreal place where he encounters a prostitute very willing to help him find his killer. As he tries to recall his past, Fisher descends deeper into his own memory, perhaps actually living the events again and the closer he gets to his answers, the darker his world becomes.


Europa remains one of Trier's most distinctive works. Visually he uses a film noir aesthetic similar to The Element of Crime but with a story that has actual hooks in our collective history. Europa supplies us with an alleged protagonist in Kessler, a naive American who meets a foxy German femme fatale and then some oh-so-obvious villains, but all is not as it seems. Kessler has traveled to Germany to 'give it a little kindness' and finds himself working as a train conductor. His experiences on the train and his developing relationship with the confusing Katharina, push the young man into getting unwittingly caught up with a terrrorist group (the pro-Nazi Werewolves) that won't accept that Germany lost and the war is over. Embracing experimental filmography, Europa looks stunning and surreal, presenting us and Kessler with atrocities on the train that one never expected to relive again. A memorable vision.

Featuring Nicole Kidman in an interesting choice of role, the story follows Grace, a sweet woman who is on the run from a gang of mobsters. During her escape she encounters Tom, a young writer who encourages her to hide out in the town of Dogville, a small town where she can safely whittle away time and create a new life. Upon her arrival, she's told that her actions will determine her safety in Dogville and that she must do chores for the townsfolk to make them like her. While things unfold simply enough, the townsfolk take Grace for granted and slowly start to take advantage of her situation, pressing Grace between a rock and a hard spot, Trier highlights the harmful community-mindset that often mistreats women who have no position or power, and the idyllic town of Dogville is a startling example of this cruelty.


A dark musical if there ever was one, Trier's Dancer in the Dark stars Icelandic pop star Bjork as a single, immigrant mother in the 60's who is losing her sight due to a degenerative condition and struggling to save enough money to afford a surgery so her son won't suffer the same fate. Her story unfolds through song and dance, images and scenes that only she can see, while she encounters brutal hardships throughout the narrative. The film also brought to us the infamous swan dress that Bjork wore to the Academy Awards while performing I've Seen it All.

A controversial film but not for the reasons you'd think. The Idiots follows a woman, Karen, as she is wrapped up in a group that encourages its followers to release their 'inner idiot'. Their outward expression of this concept? Pretending to be developmentally disabled to provoke reactions in others, in a misguided attempt to receive equal treatment by aspiring to be unequal. Karen is our 'everyman' and she adopts their manifesto with vigor, more than most, but while she clings to their almost cult-ish ideology, she hides her own dark reason for abandoning her previous life and joining the group in the first place. Now for the controversy? Explicit nudity. Yup, a film that pushes buttons with disability received censure for nudity.

Once you're done catching up with this polarizing director, Melancholia begins its engagement at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday November 18th. Tickets are on sale now.

Ticket for individual screenings in Waiting for the End of the World can be purchased online, by the phone (416-599-TIFF) or in person at the cinema. Tickets are $12.

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