Lars von Trier (born Lars Trier, April 30, 1956) is a Danish film director and screenwriter. He is closely associated with the Dogme 95 collective, although his own films have taken a variety of different approaches.
In 1979 he was enrolled in the Danish Film School. During his time as a student at the school he made the films Nocturne (Nocturne, 1980) and Image of Liberation (Befrielsesbilleder, 1982), both of which won Best Film awards at the Munich Film Festival, along with The Last Detail (Den sidste detalje 1981). His peers at the film school nicknamed him "von Trier." The name is sort of an inside-joke with the von part suggesting nobility, while Lars and Trier are quite common names in Denmark. He reportedly kept the "von" name in homage to Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg. He graduated from the film school in 1983.
After his graduation he began work on the Europe trilogy, which started with The Element of Crime (Forbrydelsens element 1984). The film was a technical accomplishment and won a technical award at the Cannes Film Festival. This film was followed by Epidemic (1987) that was also shown as part of the official programme at Cannes. For television von Trier directed Medea (1988) which won the Jean d'Arcy prize in France. He then finished the Europe trilogy in 1991 with Europa (initially released as Zentropa in the U.S.), which won the Prix du Jury at Cannes Film Festival and picked up awards at other major festivals. In 1990 he also directed the music video for the worldwide hit "Bakerman" by Laid Back. This video was reused in 2006 by the English DJ and artist Shaun Baker who did a remake of Bakerman.
In 1992 he co-founded together with producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen the movie production company Zentropa Entertainment, named after their most recent film at the time. The reason for doing this was to achieve financial independence and to have total creative control. The production company has produced many movies other than von Trier's own as well as television series. It is also the world's only mainstream film studio to have produced hardcore sex films: Constance (1998), Pink Prison (1999), HotMen CoolBoyz (2000) and All About Anna (2005).
In order to make money for his newly founded company, he made The Kingdom (Riget, 1994) and The Kingdom II (Riget II, 1997), a pair of miniseries recorded in the Danish national hospital, the name "Riget" being a slang term for the hospital known as Rigshospitalet (lit. The Kingdom's Hospital) in Danish. A projected third installment in the series has been derailed due to the death of Ernst-Hugo Järegård, who played Helmer, one of the major characters.
In 1995, von Trier's mother revealed on her deathbed that the man who he thought was father was not. After one meeting with his real father, the man refused further contact. The revelations led von Trier to attempt to "erase" the connections with his stepfather by converting to Catholicism, and to rework his filmmaking into a style emphasizing "honesty". The latter change led to von Trier's co-founding the Dogme 95 movement.
Dogme techniques influenced von Trier's next film, Breaking the Waves (1996) which won the Grand Prix at Cannes. The film featured Emily Watson, who was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Lars von Trier overcame his dislike of traveling to present his first pure Dogme film, The Idiots (Idioterne, 1998), in person at the Cannes film festival. As instructor and originator of the Dogme95 concept, which has led to international interest in Danish film as a whole, he has inspired filmmakers all over the world.
Also in 1996, von Trier conducted an unusual theatrical experiment in Copenhagen involving 53 actors, which he entitled Psychomobile 1 – The World Clock. A documentary chronicling the project was directed by Jesper Jargil, and was released in 2000 with the title De Udstillede (The Exhibited).
In 2000, von Trier premiered a musical featuring Icelandic musician Björk, Dancer in the Dark. The film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. The song "I've Seen It All" (which Trier co-wrote) received an Academy Award nomination for Best Song.
He then produced two films in his 'U.S. trilogy', Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005). Dogville, starred Nicole Kidman, and met with mixed critical reaction. Some viewers considered the film bold and powerful, while others found it pretentious and affected.
In 2006 he released a Danish comedy film The Boss of it All. It has been shot using a process that von Trier has called Automavision, which involves the director choosing the best possible fixed camera position and then allowing a computer to choose when to tilt, pan or zoom.
He is currently working on a horror movie, Antichrist, which postulates the Earth was created by Satan rather than God. Shooting will start in Germany in summer 2008.
On numerous occasions von Trier has also stated that he suffers from occasional depression which renders him incapable of performing his work and unable to uphold social relations.
Von Trier often shoots his scenes for longer periods than most directors to encourage actors to stay in character. In Dogville he let actors stay in character for hours, in the style of method acting. These techniques often put great strain on actors, most famously with Björk during the filming of Dancer in the Dark. Like many auteurs, he uses the same regular group of actors in many of his films. Some of his frequently used actors are Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier and Stellan Skarsgård.
He is heavily influenced by the work of Carl Theodor Dreyer and the film The Night Porter. He was so inspired by the short film The Perfect Human directed by Jørgen Leth that he challenged Leth to redo the short five times in feature film The Five Obstructions.
The Golden Heart trilogy was about naive heroines who maintain their 'golden hearts' despite the tragedies they experience. This trilogy includes Breaking the Waves (1996), The Idiots (1998) and Dancer in the Dark (2000). While all three films are sometimes associated with the Dogme 95 movement, only The Idiots is a certified Dogme 95 film.
The USA - Land of Opportunities trilogy follows the character of Grace, and is set in a stylized American past. Von Trier has stated he was inspired to make a trilogy about the United States as a reaction to Americans at the Cannes film festival who said he had no right to make the Dancer in the Dark, which was often viewed as being critical of a country he has never been to (and has no intention of ever visiting, due to his phobia of travel); however, von Trier himself has stated in interviews he did not intend it to be a criticism of America, saying the film takes place in a "fictional America." Lars von Trier proposed the films as ‘a series of sermons on America’s sins and hypocrisy’, inspired by the fact that American movie makers have made many movies about places across the world to which they have not travelled. All three movies will be shot in the same distinctive style, on a bare sound stage with no set and buildings marked by lines on the floor. This style is inspired by 1970s televised theatre. The trilogy consists of Dogville (2003), Manderlay (2005) and Wasington [sic] (in production).
The Kingdom (Riget) was planned as a trilogy of three seasons with 13 episodes in total, but the third season was not filmed due to death of star Ernst-Hugo Järegård shortly after completion of the second season.