The Early Short Films of Lars von Trier

Happy Birthday, Lars!

Before Lars von Trier became our reigning dark emperor of painful and psychologically unpinning cinema, he was just a boy with a movie camera  coming out of the National Film School of Denmark. And before his 1984 directorial debut The Element of Crime, he made a series of short films that, when you look back at them now, helped to establish the themes and tones that would later resonate all through his work. When once asked if there was more misery than joy in the world, Trier said:

Misery, damnit! Clearly. You may argue: Orgasm. Yes, that’s fine enough. But, orgasms, Ferraris, and other pleasures. Yes, but with death and suffering at the other end of the scale, these weigh more, I think. And there’s much more suffering and pain than pleasure. And when you enjoy a spring day, that too is a kind of melancholy.

But as a director who has always taken a pleasure in exposing the painful nature of existence, for Lars, it comes from a place of honesty rather than a perversity. Even from the his early short films, it’s evident that his unique style of filmmaking stems from an extremely dark place that not only serves to shock but to ignite. Known for having very intense phobias and bouts of severe depression, Lars is kind of a model of mental illness, using his extreme anxieties and fears to fuel his creative work. He puts us ill at ease ourselves and with the world around us, allowing us a glimpse into his troubled mind and making us feel not so alone in ours.

When we spoke to Charlotte Gainsbourg about Melancholia, she recalled her experience on Antichrist, saying that when they shot the film, Lars, “was not well and didn’t know if he would be able to finish the film,” and that they, “suffered looking at him and not being able to cope with everything.” However,  Antichrist was completed and serves as one of the most powerful films he’s ever made.

“Are we alone in the universe?,” Nils Thorsen once said Trier—to which he responded, “We are. But no one wants to realize it. They keep wanting to push limits and fly whenever. Forget it! Look inward.”

And today, let’s take a moment to admire his bizarre, disturbing, and wonderful short films that echo the sentiment felt strongly still in his work today.

En Blomst (1971)

Hvorfor flygte fra det du ved du ikke kan flygte fra? Fordi du er en kujon AKA Why Try to Escape from Which You Know You Can’t Escape from? Because You Are a Coward (1970)
Watch HERE

Screen shot 2014-03-25 at 2.18.00 PM

The Orchid Gardener (1977)

“A young, mentally ill man, a visual artist in crisis Victor Marse (Lars von Trier) meets two nurses (Eliza and her girlfriend) during his stay in a sanatorium. These nurses are obvious lesbians. Victor lives with Eliza and her son. He imagines another woman when he is roaming at a coast. He pretends committing a suicide but Eliza does not react to it. Every moment, he stays in front of a blank canvas and thinks. Meanwhile he dresses into Nazi clothes or into women dresses, then he leaves to go to the cinema, and abuses and probably kills a small girl. His masochistic affair with Eliza lasts; he is close to shooting her with a gun but instead she takes out a whip. Victor goes along the streets then he lies naked in front of the canvas on which he has left his bloody fingerprints. After this he drives a funeral car to his work – he is employed in a garden where orchids are grown. Eliza is now the past and in the end, Victor might be dead as someone drives a cross into the ground.”
Watch HERE

Screen shot 2014-03-25 at 2.19.03 PM

Menthe (1979)

“la bienheureuse is a Danish short film of the Danish director Lars von Trier from 1979. The film is based on the sadomasochistic novel by Dominique Aury , Story of O , and tells the story of a voluntary female subjugation . The production is produced in black and white, the second by the famous artist.”
Watch HERE

Nocturne (1980)

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