Jose here with your weekly top ten.
Visionary. Lunatic. Nazi. Enfant terrible. Misogynist. Genius. Poseur.
Lars Von Trier is called so many things that we often forget that he's a terrific director of actors. With his strange sense of humor and world views, his films are often as alienating as they are enlightening, but actors seem to die to work for him. He's led three of his actresses to wins at the Cannes Film Festival and has injected new life into the careers of actors like Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe and now Uma Thurman. Whether you're a fan of his films or not, his contributions to directing actors are incomparable. Now that both of his Nymphomaniac volumes are out in theaters (reviewed), it's a great time to look back
Ten Best Performance in Lars von Trier Films
(after the jump)
10. Willem Dafoe in Antichrist
Dafoe simply has delivered some of his greatest work with the mad Dane, who has found the right way to take advantage of the actor’s ability to encompass suffering and humanism in the very same way Marty achieved in The Last Temptation of Christ. In Antichrist he plays a man trying to help his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) deal with the pain of losing a child; he’s the “conscience” to her extreme emotion and scene after scene we can see his inner turmoil as he realizes there are things that go beyond rational comprehension.
9. Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia
When Penélope Cruz dropped out of Melancholia (to star in Pirates of the Caribbean of all things…) Kirsten Dunst must’ve been the last person anyone would’ve seen taking over the role and yet she was breathtaking as the tragic Justine, who realizes she’s not living the life she wants, just as the world is about to end. Melancholia is Von Trier’s most depressing film to date, and Dunst delivers one of the most heart wrenching portrayals of extreme sadness ever, but there is a reassuring beauty in her work, that allow us to see flashes of unexpected hope.
8. Patricia Clarkson in Dogville
Cruelty has rarely been put onscreen with the creepy delight Clarkson displays in Dogville. Her Vera is the embodiment of all the evil in the film’s title township, especially because we get a sense that not even she understands why she’s drawing so much pleasure out of Grace’s (Nicole Kidman) suffering. Her one big moment, where she inflicts pain through some seemingly harmless objects is harder to watch than any S&M scene in Nymphomaniac...
7. Uma Thurman in Nymphomaniac Vol. 1
Too soon? Perhaps, but the truth is that Thurman’s ferocious performance as Mrs. H is the type of thing that we’ll be discussing for quite some time. Her chapter might me the single most memorable sequence in Nymphomaniac, because it reminds us of the kind of magic Uma can deliver when she works with the right people. Her ferocious, completely deranged turn as a wronged wife is both humorous and terrifying...can we please get started on a Best Supporting Actress campaign for her?
6. Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist
Playing symbols is hard, but that is precisely what Gainsbourg does in Antichrist. She is given the almost impossible task to try and embody “womanhood”, with all the flaws Von Trier sees in the concept. She is the devilish Eve whose entire purpose seems to draw man (Willem Dafoe) into sin and Gainsbourg takes on the role with a lack of self consciousness that’s almost chilling to watch.
5. Nikolaj Lie Kaas in The Idiots
While Lars is usually praised for the work he gets from his actresses, few performances in any of his films have been as powerful as Kaas’ Jeppe in The Idiots. Considering this remained the director’s most controversial film for almost a decade, looking back at it now, it’s interesting to see how beyond the novelty of the unsimulated sex and the Dogme concepts, it has some of the most touching work in Von Trier’s filmography. Kaas is absolutely magnificent as Jeppe, who must hide his love for Josephine (Louise Mieritz) because it doesn’t adjust to the rules imposed by his group of “idiots”. In a way, his performance perfectly encompasses the intellectual and emotional battle at the center of the making of the film itself. Von Trier often seems to be mocking the very idea of normalcy with the mere existence of the film, but as proved by Jeppe, even his coldest intellectual exercises have a warm heart very deep inside.
4. Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves
Emily Watson could’ve easily played Bess McNeill as an amalgam of cliches and affected mannerisms, after all we are told from the very start that she has some mental issues (not to mention the weight of her religion). But even as we see her answer her own prayers in church, Watson makes us believe Bess truly has a connection with the divine. It’s the sincerity of her work that makes her so impossible to judge.
3. Bjork in Dancer in the Dark
Bjork’s Selma is one of the rawest performances captured on film. The Icelandic singer not only puts her voice to excellent use, but also allows her impish qualities to turn her into a martyr for the ages. Her sad smile as she takes on the world’s injustice without a single complaint would result even more infuriating if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re probably sobbing endlessly and can’t even think right. It’s a shame she decided not to act again after dealing with the pressure of such a role, but in terms of iconic work this is up there with Falconetti.
2. Nicole Kidman in Dogville
Grace Margaret Mulligan arrives in the town of Dogville one night, escaping horrors her face only suggests. She takes shelter with seemingly harmless villagers who offer her a refuge from evil, only to reveal to be worse than whatever it is she was running away from originally. Perhaps the key performance of her 2001-2004 renaissance, Kidman’s work in Dogville allowed the actress to create the ultimate calling card for herself, as she uses the same physicality of Moulin Rouge!, the chameleonic abilities she displayed in The Hours (and sans prosthetics!) and the viciousness she had showed in To Die For. Watching her go from meek creature to an angel of death is nothing if not revelatory.
1. Charlotte Gainsbourg in Melancholia
If Dunst is exquisite, then finding the right adjective for Gainsbourg’s work in Melancholia is quite impossible. Starting off as the more “adjusted” sibling, her Claire is the rock to troubled Justine in the first part of the film, but as the plot moves from emotional liberation towards the apocalypse, Claire allows her demons to take over her and we see her do the opposite of what she did in Antichrist. In the former she was so secure of her convictions that she even became murderous, while in the latter we see doubt take over her in a manner we’d only seen in the work of Ingmar Bergman. There are inarguably many other performances in Lars Von Trier’s oeuvre that seem more powerful, more iconic and more important, but to date Gainsbourg’s remains the most haunting.