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Von Trier’s train wreck

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Lars von Trier • Director

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- The enfant terrible of European cinema tells all about Melancholia, his "beautiful film about the end of the world"

Lars von Trier • Director

Accompanied by his lead actresses Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Danish director Lars von Trier answered questions from the international press with his usual reticence and cryptic language following the premiere of Melancholia [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Lars von Trier
film profile
]
, in Competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival.

Yesterday’s press conference ended with embarrassing pronouncements from von Trier on Nazism that today got the director expelled from the Festival (see news).

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What inspired you to make a film about the end of the world?
Lars von Trier: It’s not exactly a film about the end of the world, but a film about a state of mind. I have experienced various stages of melancholy in my life. Melancholy exists in the art that I love and is part of all the most important artistic forms. It is tied to desire, and that’s what makes this film, which is slightly different from my other films, particular, seeing as how from the very beginning there are elements of desire, pathos, drama.

There are various types of films. In general, we go see them to find out how they end. But I don’t agree with this idea, because we often already know the ending, like when we watch a James Bond movie and know for sure he’ll survive. We just want to see exactly how it will end, how the characters react throughout the film. I thought it would be interesting to establish all of this very clearly from the beginning, in other words to show the end of the film. Because in these kinds of films we have the impression we know how they’ll end, but we hope we’re wrong.

Why does Justine, the character played by Kirsten Dunst, have such a bad time at her wedding?
The wedding brings about a certain melancholy in her, but she was already a person with a leaning towards sadness. She hopes the wedding can help her, that her life can find balance, but obviously this doesn’t happen. Kristen Dunst and I spoke a lot about how her depression should be conveyed and she pulled it off more than well, especially in her expressions.

Like the magic cabin in the film, is art a refuge in life?
At the moment I’m studying the conflict between the Western Church and the Eastern Church, between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In the latter there is pleasure, while the Western Church is more oriented towards suffering, pain, the Crucifixion. We need divine light, a change through the light. For me, that light is cinema or it could be cinema. I watch a lot of films and often I almost want to cry because what I see is that divine light. When Jesus went up the mountain he saw the light, and perhaps there isn’t much hope in this light, but there is life. Some of my favourite films give me this light. I love the concepts of suffering, pain, guilt, but there is another side to life, the luminous side that films can portray. We are destroying Earth, but that’s not in the least bit worrying because, in any case, some day we will all die.

What was your inspiration for the cinematography?
Various paintings, of different styles, German painters, Pre-Raphaelite painters. I looked through my hard disk for that which went best with the film. I was also inspired by great directors such as Antonioni and Tarkovsky.

Are you happy with the film?
Yes, it was a pleasure to shoot. We let ourselves get carried away by the music of Wagner, and the film became too romantic. That’s a positive thing, but when I was looking at the dailies I didn’t like this romanticism. I don’t know, perhaps the film is worthless. I hope not, but...

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