Devil’s Advocate: Lars Von Trier isn’t a flawed genius, he’s a prat

Outside of the critically acclaimed Melancholia I think it’s overwhelmingly safe to say that it’s not been Lars Von Trier’s finest year to date. He’s a possibly racist, possibly suicidal, possibly Nazi sympathising, possibly misogynist past pornographer with a penchant for digging himself into holes so deep that even Richard Madeley can only sit back and watch in astonishment. Tactful he is not.

Taken the dim view that many attribute to the man he may as well just jump the shark completely. He may as well go ahead right now and make Saving Private Reichmann – a rousing tale of courage in which a band of Nazi’s lead by Töm Hanks head out on a mission to bring home a young soldier whose brothers died trying to liberate the country of France from its brutal French overlords. That would thoroughly tick the Nazi box, give those ‘critics’ something to think about.

Or maybe he could tick off those pesky ‘feminists’. Just go ahead and make a film about a woman. Yeah, a woman. A woman who what? A woman who has a lot of sex of course. How else could he annoy them? He’ll call it The Nymphomaniac…and…he’ll make it a bit like a porno, you know, with actual sex and penises and stuff. Feminists hate porn! And sex! And penises! That’ll tick them off for sure. I can just see Von Trier reclining on a freshly dug pile of dirt, smirking next to the hole he’s about to jump headlong into. But what did you expect? He’s suicidal don’t you know.

His pen of box ticking must indeed runneth dry.

So what is his next project you may ask? Why it’s The Nymphomaniac. Well fair enough, it wasn’t really the time for a Nazi epic – what with the investigation concerning his alleged ‘justification of war crimes’ of course.

Yet again it seems the depths Von Trier is willing to go to metaphorically give the press the finger are staggering. Why not just do it literally Lars? Stand up at Cannes and stick your middle finger in the air. It’s a lot less cringeworthy than stumbling all over your words in a Charlie Chaplin-esque farce of superficially offensive proportions. Even so, Von Trier would probably contend that he took The Great Dictator literally…

In an interview with Variety Charlotte Gainsbourg revealed that she is in talks to star in the movie, calling the script “an explicit exploration of a woman’s erotic life” apparently presented in eight chapters covering the age range of 0 to 50. The film will be released in both  hardcore and softcore versions. Talk about undiluted vision…

If all goes as planned this will be Gainsbourg’s third collaboration with the Dane in a row. There’s not much she hasn’t done on screen for him yet but unsimulated sex may be the breaking of the last taboo – although she may have already done that when she mutilated her genitals, I never can tell. Whilst on Dancer in the Dark Bjork had such an horrendous time with Von Trier that she refused to ever act for him again, Gainsbourg just can’t seem to get enough.

Other veterans of his films allegedly lining up to star are Stellan Skarsgard and Willem Dafoe. Although neither are confirmed Skarsgard has talked of a phone call in which he yet again experienced the brunt of Von Trier’s candid use of vocabulary when propositioned with “my next film is a porno and I want you to be the lead in it. You will not get to fuck”. A delightful request I’m sure but if nothing Von Trier does have a loyal band of actors around him that are seemingly willing to help him create his ‘artistic’ visions without heed to personal vanity.

Why do they keep coming back? Well I guess it’s because although he may occasionally make some utter tripe he is obviously a very talented man. The problem as I see it is that whilst obviously very skilled at what he seeks to do, what he seeks to do is often clouded by his balls insane judgement. Whilst Antichrist may contain beautiful interludes and is often visually stunning it’s all a bit tainted with his ‘eccentricity’. What the writer/director really needs is someone to constrain his poor decisions.

If one takes the Kermode hypothesis Von Trier is some sort of master showman calculating his idiocy with the intense precision of some sort of media svengali. I’m not really convinced. However far from a monster I do think he is often just contrary for the sake of it. He may indeed be is a showman of sorts, a David Brent who’s downfall isn’t typified by his attempts at humour (it’s most definitely not that) but by his attempts at eccentricity, and if that includes being a suicidal Nazi sympathising misogynist then so be it.

Von Trier is a psychologists nightmare I’m sure and who knows where he pulls his nuggets of stupid from but the fact is that he has made a very illustrious career for himself in the meantime. I don’t think that he is any of the ridiculous things he makes himself out to be, I just think that he’s a bit of a conundrum. And a bit of prat.

It’s often said that there’s a very thin line between being a genius or a madman and it seems to me that he is walking it rather well. If anything the tragedy is that despite all his attempts to the contrary, Von Trier may never be either.