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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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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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