Lars von Trier, aging enfant terrible, and increasingly irrelevant cinematic provocateur, made his feature film debut with just the sort of artsy self-indulgence great talents often need to get out of their system to find their voice. A fanciful, ochre-toned, dreamscape, it’s a free-verse detective story about an unsolved serial murder case that maintains casual contact with logic, sense or narrative form. Instead, moody scene painting and id/ego battles of will, possibly ravings from a psychiatrist’s couch, mark the way ahead. In other words, it’s a pain to get thru. Trier, stealing the affectatious worst from some of filmdom’s best, arbitrarily culls from a few, favored film schools & directors (i.e. Germany’s UFA, Godard, Clouzot, Tarkovsky, et al.). Now & then, a visual wisecrack breaks thru, along with his unfortunate misogyny, but his real success was getting past this daunting folly, with a decade’s worth of films & tv to show for it. Then, the breakout success of BREAKING THE WAVES//’96 did him in, fed & enabled by the usual suspects: Film Fests; Academics on the lookout for cutting-edge theses; and critics hunting up bona fides to gnaw on. And while you can’t tell from this mess of a debut, the loss was considerable.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: You might start with BREAKING THE WAVES and work your way back; even better, begin with Trier’s underrated EUROPA/’91, a sort of deconstructed THIRD MAN/’49.