Is it “Unique” (CNN), “Heartbreaking” (The Independent), “Riveting” (Radio Times)? Or, perhaps, “Ludicrous” (Daily Mail), “Numbing” (Salon.com) or “Grim” (TV Guide)? Lars Von Trier’s low-rent, grainy tale of the Czech immigrant in the USA who is losing her sight, made according to the minimalist Dogme manifesto, won the Palme D’Or at the 2000 Cannes film festival. And even there fighting almost broke out in the audience.
What got everyone’s goat was Von Trier’s decision to couple his muddy shakeycam style to the most velour of Hollywood genres – the musical – and to cast the coolest of Euro sophisticats, Catherine Deneuve, as a factory worker. Adding to this deliberate provocation is the singing of elfin popsqueak Björk, which has always split the jury.
It is entirely typical of Von Trier to set out on a bold experiment and to try to work his way out of the box he’s put himself in – remember the “slaves love their masters” message of Manderlay, or Melancholia, definitely the most downbeat “end of the world” movie ever made. Remember also that Von Trier made a documentary in 2003 called The Five Obstructions, a challenge to his friend Jørgen Leth, to remake his film The Perfect Human five times, each time with a different obstruction of Von Trier’s devising.
That’s what we have here. The grit in the oyster of the artistic process. But does it produce a pearl?
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© Steve Morrissey 2013