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Sexual Perversity in Denmark: An Interview with Lars von Trier

Sexual Perversity in Denmark: An Interview with Lars von Trier (photo)

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What does it take to be hailed the bad boy of Danish cinema? Among other feats, Lars von Trier co-signed the Dogme 95 manifesto, forcing regimented rules upon filmmakers in a cry for anti-blockbuster honesty. His own entry, “The Idiots,” pissed people off for featuring able-bodied adults pretending to find their “inner spazz.” He began two trilogies he has no intention of finishing (though one of the main actors from “The Kingdom” died after Part II), and forced aging mentor Jørgen Leth to remake his own short film with multiple sets of no-win restrictions in the experimental doc “The Five Obstructions.” More notoriously, von Trier has plucked amazing performances out of actresses who don’t seem to want to work with him again, including Nicole Kidman (who blamed scheduling problems for why she couldn’t reprise her lead role in “Dogville” in the sequel “Manderlay”) and “Dancer in the Dark” star Björk, who once referred to von Trier’s working methods as “emotional pornography.” And on and on you can trace the mischievous milestones of an eclectic and challenging career that dabbles in meta-apocalypses (1983’s “Epidemic”), realist dramatic epics (1996’s “Breaking the Waves”) and avant-garde comedies (2006’s “The Boss of It All”).

“Antichrist,” however, proves the most controversial film yet in the 53-year-old provocateur’s career. Made in a well-documented fit of depression, the disturbing psychodrama stars Willem Dafoe and a fearless Charlotte Gainsbourg (who won the Best Actress award at Cannes) as an unnamed married couple who have just suffered the death of their child. Dafoe’s character, a psychiatrist, suggests a trip to their remote cabin in the woods in order to treat her post-traumatic paralysis, and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Mystical acorn showers, ghostly images between the trees and an animatronic fox snarling “Chaos reigns!” seep into the gorgeously gloomy compositions, and let’s just say the images become so boldly graphic (sexually and violently, sometimes at the same time) that at least two audience members have so far passed out. Since von Trier doesn’t fly, we spoke by Skype webcam, which allowed us to talk about his shamanic journeys, nipple negotiations and the t-shirt he was wearing that day.

I think it’s only polite to ask, “How are you feeling today?”

I’m feeling better. I don’t really want to admit it, but I am.

Is it uncomfortable to be continually discussing your mental health with journalists?

No, it’s a fact for me, and it has a lot to do with what you’re doing… At an early point, I decided that I should talk about my anxieties because it’s much easier. So I’m fine about it, but I think the readers must’ve reached the limit now of knowing about my mental problems. [laughs]

You’ve demonstrated a puckish sense of humor in your other projects, but this film feels so grave. Would it be wrong to say this is the most sincere film you’ve made yet?

Yeah, I would say that it’s the one film that I tried not to control too much. Maybe some of the humor comes in the second time you write a script. I tried to write it fast, and I hadn’t made an effort to not make it symbolic and to not make it too logical, so it’s more of a mess than the other films I did, but I think it was somewhat intentional.

“Antichrist” has many champions, but some people booed after a screening in Cannes. Do you take any satisfaction that at least they didn’t have a middling response?

You’re absolutely right. I have some kind of strange fascination about being yelled at, yes. [laughs]

Could you discuss the relationship in your writing between this more naturalistic story of a grieving couple, and the fever-dream imagery haunting the second half of the film?

A lot of the images come earlier in your life. I made something we call shamanic journeys, where you travel to this parallel world on the drumbeat, and then bring something home. These animals, and a lot of the images from the film, were inspired by this.

Did one of the “Three Beggars” in the film — the fox, the deer, or the crow — represent you on your journeys?

No, no, no. In English, I think it’s called an otter. I always thought they were very playful and beautiful animals. You have this power animal that you contact, and that you use.

10212009_Antichrist.jpgWhat kind of research went into the psychology of the film, in both Willem’s unorthodox treatment and Charlotte’s behavior?

I didn’t really have to do much research because the anxiety is something I’ve fortunately felt too much of. The form of therapy that he’s doing — in a very wrong way, of course — is called cognitive therapy, which I’ve been undergoing for almost three years.

Has it helped?

[laughs] I’ve tried so many things. Yes, I think it’s helping, but it’s not a wonder drug. It’s the best thing you can do right now.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.