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Lars von Trier
Lars von Trier 2014 (cropped).jpg
Trier at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, 2014
Lars Trier

(1956-04-30) 30 April 1956 (age 67)
Kongens Lyngby, Denmark
Alma mater
Occupation Filmmaker
Years active 1967–present
Notable work
  • The Element of Crime (1984)
  • Europa (1991)
  • Riget (1994)
  • Breaking the Waves (1996)
  • Dancer in the Dark (2000)
  • Dogville (2003)
  • Antichrist (2009)
  • Melancholia (2011)
  • The House That Jack Built (2018)
Movement Hyperrealism, Dogme 95, German Expressionism
Cæcilia Holbek
(m. 1987; div. 1995)
Bente Frøge
(m. 1997; div. 2015)
Children 4
Awards Palme d'Or, EFA, Cesar, Bodil, Goya, FIPRESCI
Honours Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog

Lars von Trier ( Trier; 30 April 1956) is a Danish film director and screenwriter, initially an actor and lyricist, with a controversial career spanning more than four decades. His work is known for his trilogies (Europa, The Kingdom, Golden Heart, America, and Depression) as well as its genre and technical innovation, confrontational examination of existential, social, and political issues, and his treatment of subjects such as mercy, sacrifice, and mental health.

Among his more than 100 awards and 200 nominations at film festivals worldwide, von Trier has received: the Palme d'Or (for Dancer in the Dark), the Grand Prix (for Breaking the Waves), the Prix du Jury (for Europa), and the Technical Grand Prize (for The Element of Crime and Europa) at the Cannes Film Festival. Von Trier has also received an Academy Award nomination.

Von Trier is the founder and shareholder of the Danish film production company Zentropa Films, which has sold more than 350 million tickets and garnered eight Academy Award nominations.

Early life and education

Von Trier was born in Kongens Lyngby, Denmark, north of Copenhagen, to Inger Høst and Fritz Michael Hartmann (the head of Denmark's Ministry of Social Affairs and a World War II resistance fighter). He received his surname from Høst's husband, Ulf Trier, whom he believed to be his biological father until 1989.

He studied film theory at the University of Copenhagen and film direction at the National Film School of Denmark. At 25, he won two Best School Film awards at the Munich International Festival of Film Schools for Nocturne and Last Detail. The same year, he added the nobiliary particle "von" to his name, possibly as a satirical homage to the equally self-invented titles of directors Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg, and saw his graduation film Images of Liberation released as a theatrical feature.


1984–1994: Career beginnings and the Europa trilogy

In 1984, The Element of Crime, von Trier's breakthrough film, received twelve awards at seven international festivals including the Technical Grand Prize at Cannes, and a nomination for the Palme d'Or. The film's slow, non-linear pace, innovative and multi-leveled plot design, and dark dreamlike visual effects combine to create an allegory for traumatic European historical events.

His next film, Epidemic (1987), was also shown at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section. The film features two story lines that ultimately collide: the chronicle of two filmmakers (played by von Trier and screenwriter Niels Vørse) in the midst of developing a new project, and a dark science fiction tale of a futuristic plague – the very film von Trier and Vørsel are depicted making.

Von Trier has occasionally referred to his films as falling into thematic and stylistic trilogies. This pattern began with The Element of Crime (1984), the first of the Europa trilogy, which illuminated traumatic periods in Europe both in the past and the future. It includes The Element of Crime (1984), Epidemic (1987), and Europa (1991).

He directed Medea (1988) for television, which won him the Jean d'Arcy prize in France. It is based on a screenplay by Carl Th. Dreyer and stars Udo Kier. Trier completed the Europa trilogy in 1991 with Europa (released as Zentropa in the US), which won the Prix du Jury at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, and picked up awards at other major festivals. In 1990 he also directed the music video for the song "Bakerman" by Laid Back. This video was re-used in 2006 by the English DJ and artist Shaun Baker in his remake of the song.

Seeking financial independence and creative control over their projects, in 1992 von Trier and producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen founded the film production company Zentropa Entertainment. Named after a fictional railway company in Europa, their most recent film at the time, Zentropa has produced many movies other than Trier's own, as well as several television series. To make money for his newly founded company, von Trier made The Kingdom (Danish title Riget, 1994) and The Kingdom II (Riget II, 1997), a pair of miniseries recorded in the Danish national hospital, the name "Riget" being a colloquial name for the hospital known as Rigshospitalet (lit. The Kingdom's Hospital) in Danish. A projected third season of the series was derailed by the death in 1998 of Ernst-Hugo Järegård, who played Dr. Helmer, and that of Kirsten Rolffes, who played Mrs. Drusse, in 2000, two of the major characters, led to the series' cancellation.

1995–2000: the Dogme 95 manifesto, and the Golden Heart trilogy

Dogme 95 Certificate for Susanne Bier's film Open Hearts

In 1995, von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg presented their manifesto for a new cinematic movement, which they called Dogme 95. The Dogme 95 concept, which led to international interest in Danish film, inspired filmmakers all over the world. In 2008, together with their fellow Dogme directors Kristian Levring and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg received the European film award for European Achievement in World Cinema.

In 1996 von Trier conducted an unusual theatrical experiment in Copenhagen involving 53 actors, which he titled 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).

Von Trier achieved his greatest international success with his Golden Heart trilogy. Each film in the trilogy is about naive heroines who maintain their "golden hearts" despite the tragedies they experience. This trilogy consists of: 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.

Breaking the Waves (1996), the first film in his Golden Heart trilogy, won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and featured Emily Watson, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Its grainy images, and hand-held photography, pointed towards Dogme 95 but violated several of the manifesto's rules, and therefore does not qualify as a Dogme 95 film. The second film in the trilogy, The Idiots (1998), was nominated for a Palme d'Or, with which he was presented in person at the Cannes Film Festival despite his dislike of traveling. 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" (co-written by von Trier) received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.

2003–2008: The Land of Opportunities and other works

The Five Obstructions (2003), made by von Trier and Jørgen Leth, is a documentary that incorporates lengthy sections of experimental films. The premise is that von Trier challenges director Jørgen Leth, his friend and mentor, to remake his old experimental film The Perfect Human (1967) five times, each time with a different "obstruction" (or obstacle) specified by von Trier.

A proposed trilogy, von Trier's Land of Opportunities consists of Dogville (2003), Manderlay (2005), and Wasington, which is yet to be made. Dogville and Manderlay were both shot with the same distinctive, extremely stylized approach, placing the actors on a bare sound stage with no set decoration and the buildings' walls marked by chalk lines on the floor, a style inspired by 1970s televised theatre. Dogville (2003) starred Nicole Kidman and Manderlay (2005) starred Bryce Dallas Howard in the same main role as Grace Margaret Mulligan. Both films have casts of major international actors, including Harriet Andersson, Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Danny Glover, and Willem Dafoe, and question various issues relating to American society, such as intolerance (in Dogville) and slavery (in Manderlay).

In 2006, von Trier released a Danish-language comedy film, The Boss of It All. It was shot using an experimental process that he has called Automavision, which involves the director choosing the best possible fixed camera position and then allowing a computer to randomly choose when to tilt, pan, or zoom. Following The Boss of It All, von Trier scripted an autobiographical film, The Early Years: Erik Nietzsche Part 1 [da] in 2007, which went on to be directed by Jacob Thuesen. The film tells the story of von Trier's years as a student at the National Film School of Denmark. It stars Jonatan Spang as von Trier's alter ego, called "Erik Nietzsche", and is narrated by von Trier himself. All the main characters in the film are based on real people from the Danish film industry, with thinly veiled portrayals including Jens Albinus as director Nils Malmros, Dejan Čukić as screenwriter Mogens Rukov, and Søren Pilmark.


Von Trier's next feature film was Antichrist, a film about "a grieving couple who retreat to their cabin in the woods, hoping a return to Eden will repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage; but nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse". The film stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It premiered in competition at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where the festival's jury honoured the movie by giving the Best Actress award to Gainsbourg.

In 2011, von Trier released Melancholia, an apocalyptic drama about two depressive sisters played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, the former of whom marries just before a rogue planet is about to collide with Earth. The film was in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Best Actress award for Dunst.

2015–2018: The House That Jack Built and the return to Cannes

In 2015, von Trier started to work on a new feature film, The House That Jack Built (2018), which was originally planned as an eight-part television series. Shooting started in March 2017 in Sweden, with the film crew moving to Copenhagen in May.

In February 2017, von Trier explained in his own words that The House That Jack Built "celebrates the idea that life is evil and soulless, which is sadly proven by the recent rise of the Homo trumpus – the rat king". The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2018. Despite more than an hundred walkouts by audience members when initially screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the film still received a 10-minute standing ovation.

2019–present: Revival to Riget and last feature film, Études

After the release of The House That Jack Built (2018), he was started to on an anthology film with ten minutes of each ten black and white segments, the project will be called Études, inspired by the musical composition of the same name.

In December 2020, it was announced that von Trier would produce a belated third and final season for his acclaimed series The Kingdom, titled The Kingdom Exodus. Without Järegård,and Rolffes, they would return Søren Pilmark as Jørgen 'Hook' Krogshøj and Ghita Nørby as Rigmor Mortensen, both returned with a new cast Mikael Persbrandt as Dr. Helmer, Jr in the final season as the three main protagonists. It was expected to be shot in 2021, consisting of five episodes to be released in November 2022. The miniseries premiered out of competition at the Venice Film Festival as a five-hour feature length film. The third season was warmly received by critics.

Aesthetics, themes, and style of working


Von Trier 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 the feature film The Five Obstructions.


Von Trier's writing style has been heavily influenced by his work with actors on set, as well as the Dogme 95 manifesto that he co-authored. In an interview with Creative Screenwriting, von Trier described his process as "writing a sketch and keep[ing] the story simple...then part of the script work is with the actors."

While reflecting on the storytelling across his body of work, von Trier said, "All the stories are about a realist who comes into conflict with life. I'm not crazy about real life, and real life is not crazy about me." He further described his process as dividing different parts of his personality into different characters.

Von Trier has cited Danish filmmaker Carl Dreyer as a writing influence, pointing to Dreyer's method of overwriting his scripts then significantly cutting the length down.

Filming techniques

Von Trier has said that "a film should be like a stone in your shoe". To create original art he feels that filmmakers must distinguish themselves stylistically from other films, often by placing restrictions on the film making process. The most famous such restriction is the cinematic "vow of chastity" of the Dogme 95 movement with which he is associated. In Dancer in the Dark, he used jump shots and dramatically different color palettes and camera techniques for the "real world" and musical portions of the film, and in Dogville everything was filmed on a sound stage with no set, where the walls of the buildings in the fictional town were marked as lines on the floor.

Von Trier often shoots digitally and operates the camera himself, preferring to continuously shoot the actors in-character without stopping between takes. In Dogville he let actors stay in character for hours, in the style of method acting. These techniques often put great strain on the actors, most famously with Björk during the filming of Dancer in the Dark.

Trier also attributes most of his profound ideas to that of his previous mentor, Thomas Boguszewski. "Thomas' genius is one I could never match," says von Trier, "but it would be a shame not to try."

Approach to actors

In a Skype interview for IndieWire, von Trier compared his approach to actors with "how a chef would work with a potato or a piece of meat", clarifying that working with actors has differed on each film based on the production conditions.

Von Trier has occasionally courted controversy by his treatment of his leading ladies. He and Björk famously fell out during the shooting of Dancer in the Dark, to the point where Björk would abscond from filming for days at a time. She stated about Trier, who among other things shattered a monitor while it was next to her, " can take quite sexist film directors like Woody Allen or Stanley Kubrick and still they are the one that provide the soul to their movies. In Lars von Trier's case it is not so and he knows it. He needs a female to provide his work soul. And he envies them and hates them for it. So he has to destroy them during the filming. And hide the evidence." Despite this, other actresses such as Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg have spoken out in defence of von Trier's approach.

Personal life

Fritz Michael Hartmann
Fritz Michael Hartmann (c. 1950)

Von Trier's mother considered herself a communist, while his father was a social democrat. His parents regarded the disciplining of children as reactionary. He has noted that he was brought up in an atheist family, and that although Ulf Trier was Jewish, he was not religious. His parents did not allow much room in their household for "feelings, religion, or enjoyment", and also refused to make any rules for their children, with complex effects upon von Trier's personality and development.

In 2009, he said, "I'm a very bad Catholic. In fact I'm becoming more and more of an atheist."


Von Trier suffers from various fears and phobias, including an intense fear of flying. This fear frequently places severe constraints on him and his crew, necessitating that virtually all of his films be shot in either Denmark or Sweden. As he quipped in an interview, "Basically, I'm afraid of everything in life, except film making."

Parkinson's disease

On 8 August 2022, it was announced that von Trier had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. According to Variety, von Trier plans to take a break from filmmaking to adjust to his new life with the disease, Trier replied: "I will take a little break and find out what to do, but I certainly hope that my condition will be better. It’s a disease you can’t take away; you can work with the symptoms, though.”

Awards and honors


See also

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