Category Archives: 2010 Focus

A new golden age for Danish documentaries (5/6)

For some years already, Danish documentary has been well represented in international film festivals. Among the latest examples: Armadillo by Janus Metz awarded the 2010 Grand Prix du Jury Semaine de la Critique and The Red Chapel by Mads Brüger awarded Great Prize of the Jury at the 2010 Sundance International Film Festival. Back to the history of Danish documentary.

 Documentary, an adventure genre


Knud Rasmussen, Paul Henningsen are quite unknown in France. They nevertheless marked the history of Danish documentary. Nanook (1934) was about the last expedition of the explorer Knud Rasmussen and arose a great interest among the Danish public. Its narrative construction, its length (1h20) and its ethnographic quality (it studies the Inuit way of life) made it a very different film from other explorer films.

Paul Henningsen, another outstanding documentarist, shot Danmark (1935) often described as an impressionist, poetic and light painting of his country. During the 1930s, documentary took off. During the Second World War, it kept its lightness to better by-passed the Nazi propaganda. It became diversified over the following years, keeping away from Nation and exploration topics under the influence of cinema and television.

 The experimental era


Jorgen Leth, DR

In the 1960s, Jorgen Leth undoubtedly became the most famous Danish documentarist. The Perfect Human (1967) a 13 minute long short film that tries to define the perfect human made his work known. This film was the beginning of another documentary “The Five Obstructions” (2003) by Lars von Trier. Jorgen Leth agreed to his film in five different ways, by each time following five different obstructions. With Lars von Trier, documentary becomes a dog-umentary and must abide by the rules of a Manifesto similar to the Dogme Manifesto.

Documentary is back on the international scene


Armadillo, Janus Metz, DR

With Armadillo by Janus Metz (2010 Grand Prix du Jury Semaine de la Critique), a documentary on young Danish soldiers leaving for their first mission in Afghanistan in a camp named Armadilllo, documentary is back on the international scene.

Another Danish documentary has been praised in 2010: The Red Chapel by Mads Brüger, a humorous documentary on false acting troup that is willing to perform their show in North Korea (Great Prize of the Jury at the 2010 Sundance International Film Festival)

These two documentaries will be screened in Les Arcs next December. Watch Armadillo‘s trailer…

Coming soon, When Danish actors go abroad..

Welcome to Filmbyen! (4/6)

American cinema has Hollywood, Italian cinema has Cinecittà and… Denmark has Filmbyen! Guided tour of the Danish Cinecittà, created by Lars von Trier and Peter Aalbæk Jensen on a former military camp in Hvidovre.

Lars von Trier’s and Peter Aalbæk Jensen’s Kingdom

When Peter Aalbæk Jensen met Lars von Trier on the shooting set of a commercial in 1988, the two were known to have different characters. Nobody would have guessed they could work together on a daily basis. Back then, Lars von Trier was looking for a producer willing to produce his films. Together, they decided to create a production firm Zentropa Entertainement named after the train company in Europa (1991). To keep the firm afloat and have enough money to produce Breaking the Waves, the duo made some commercials and shot The Kingdom, the TV series making them famous in Denmark. In 1993, a year after Zentropa was created, the production firm Nimbus Films joined Zentropa Entertainment. The two firms moved to Hvidovre in 1999. This unusual place rapidly became Lars von Trier’s headquarters : all his prizes are  displayed on a wall in the entrance hall, above the door of his office one can read that “chaos reigns” and… dwarfs inhabit the garden.

Filmbyen, from the shooting sets for Dogme films…

In Filmbyen, there are shooting sets and the offices of both production firms. It welcomed the shooting and produced most of Dogme films. Both firms helped Danish film-makers such as Lukas Moodysson (Fucking Amal), Thomas Vinterberg (Festen), Susanne Bier (After the wedding) and Per Fly (The Bench) to be known.
Zentropa Entertainement is however often described as the big sister of Nimbus Films since it has always wanted to be considered a European mini-studio with international ambitions. It had numerous offices across Europe (France, Scotland, Holland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Poland and Italy), each of them composed of a producer and an assistant.

… to Pussy Power films.

The nineties undoubtedly were Dogme’s years. Dogme’s philosophy was applied to every cinematic genre and Lars von Trier even came to launch the Pussy Power, aiming at producing Dogme X films. The idea was to promote the point of view of women on X films. Scripts were reviewd by a consultative commissions whose analysis was based on the Puzzy Power Manifesto, standing for sensuality, a credible story and no violence.

Zentropa Entertainement has lately produced Jørgen Leth’s Erotic Man and Pernille Fische Christensen’s and Lars von Trier’s coming films (A family and Melancholia).

Coming next, A new golden age for Danish documentaries

The case of Lars von Trier (3/6)

Few people can be said to be more controversial than the Danish film-maker Lars von Trier. Each of his public appearance is an event. Since its first feature film Element of a crime (1984), Lars von Trier has made numerous films, from Breaking the waves, Great Prize of the Jury at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival to his latest film, Antichrist (2008). Discover the world of an unusual film-maker.

Lars von Trier, an emblematic film-maker is born


Lars von Trier, DR

Described as a troublemaker as well as a proud, brillant, talented and egocentric director, Lars von Trier (after his real name Lars Trier – he added “von” to sound like Stroheim or Sternberg) shot his first films while he was still a teenage boy. He made his international breakthrough in 1996 when Breaking the waves was awarded the Great Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival. Despite critical and international praise, Lars von Trier has remained a mysterious film-maker, excentric (only travelling by mobile home), self-confident and strongly believing in the art he contributes to make. He has even described himself as the best film-maker in the world.

The cinematic experiences of doctor Lars…

Lars von Trier stands for exploration and experimentation in cinema. Each time he makes a film, he puts what he does into question, willing to go beyond what he has already done. While he only shot cinema films till 1994, he agreed to shoot a series for the Danish TV, The Kingdom. Hand-held shot, shot in natural lighting and leaving room for improvising, the story of this ghostly hospital allowed him to free up from the rules that constricted his art till then. Dogme is certainly born from this experiment. On March, 20th, 1995, at the Odeon theatre in Paris, he read a list of ten interdictions aiming at saving cinema from the artificiality of contemporary Hollywoodian films. He likes being constrained in his art and does not hesitate to ask the other film-makers to follow the constraints he establishes. He even created the Dogumentary movement (obstructions applied to the documentary) when he asked Jørgen Leth to shoot five different new versions of his success film The perfect human (1967). The experiment was recorded as a film called Five obstructions (2004).

…and the provocations of Mister von Trier


Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist, © Christian Geisnæs

After a glorious 1990 decade closing by the Golden Palm awarded to Dancer in the dark in 2000, the beginning of the 2000s were the years of controversies. Debates followed one another on the Croisette where each of his films are almost yearly presented. Dancer in the dark was strongly criticized because Lars von Trier shot a film on the USA without ever going there… and his latest film Antichrist on a mourning couple retiring from the world in their hut called Eden in the middle of the forest triggered an outburst of criticisms. Criticized for his mysoginy and his aesthetic choices, Lars von Trier strongly stodd for his way of making films. As Carl Th. Dreyer, he does not have the audience in mind when making a film, but only the images that are the best way of affecting people.


Lars von Trier is currently shooting his next film. The title Melancholia as well as the cast (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling…) have already been unveiled. These are the only information that have been disclosed. Cinema release is foreseen in may-june 2011…

Coming soon, Welcome to Film Byen, the film complex made by Lars von Trier…

1995, the Danish New Wave (2/6)

Though the Danish cinema was praised many times over the 1980s (Babette’s Feast that was awarded the 1988 Oscar for Best Foreign Film; Pelle the Conqueror awarded the 1988 Golden Palm), it has long remained associated with Carl Th. Dreyer’s figure. The emergence of Dogme at Lars von Trier’s and Thomas Vinterberg’s initiative in 1995 shook Denmark and announced the rebirth of the Danish cinema.

The film-maker shall abide by the ten Dogme’s rules

On 20th March 1995, as he was attending the celebration ceremony of cinema’s birth at the Odeon theatre in Paris, Lars von Trier flayed the way films were made during the 1980s-1990s and announced the birth of Dogme 95. This brand new cinematic movement aimed at guarding cinema against the superficiality of Hollywoodian productions. Aloud, Lars von Trier proclaimed the ten commandments contained in the Dogme Manifesto. Together, they constituted a list of ten interdictions cheerfully welcomed by the audience gathered at the Odeon theatre. From then on, special lighting was not acceptable, the camera must be hand-held, the film must be in colour, the sound must never be produced apart from the images and the director must not be credited. Described as “untenable” and “paradoxical” by the four founding fathers of the movement (Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Soren Kragh Jacobsen and Kristian Levring), these rules are first and foremost a great opportunity for the new generation of Danish film-makers to experiment a new way of making cinema.

1998, the Danish wave breaks on the world of cinema

The five first Dogme films were released between 1998 and 2000. Three years had gone by since the Dogme’s birth. During these three years the film-makers had to convince the Danish Film Institute to give them subsidies since they refused to present their scripts. Lars von Trier, as a film-maker and co-owner of the biggest Danish production firm (Zentropa), made a lot to make the Dogme known. At last, the two first Dogme films, Festen by Thomas Vinterberg and The Idiots by Lars von Trier were presented at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. The movement was absolutely recognized when Thomas Vinterberg received the Special Prize of the Jury. It was the beginning of success for the new generation of film-makers among whom Soren Kragh-Jacobsen (Mifune, 1999 Silver Bear), Kristian Leving (The King is Alive) et Lone Scherfig (Italian for beginners, one the biggest success in Denmark.) Several film-makers followed them and the Dogme’s rules letting the movement run out of breath.

March 1995: Dogme is dead, Long live Dogme!

Since the beginning of the 2000s, one question has regularly been raised on the front stage: is Dogme only a matter of five films? Praised by critics and awarded by pairs, the Dogme film-makers reached international glory. Most of them went to Hollywood where they made English speaking films (It’s all about love, Thomas Vinterberg ; Things we lost in fire, Susanne Bier…) thus deceiving critics and audiences. To avoid being trapped by the rules of a movement that would have limited their creativity, Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier finally proclaimed the death of the Dogme on 20th March 1995, ten years after its birth.

Dogme nevertheless contributed to bring the Danish cinema back to life and to give more freedom to film-makers. The realist injuction let film-makers to shoot longer scenes and to let express the actors’ feelings as it has seldom been done before.

Coming next, LARS VON TRIER…

The passion of Carl Theodor Dreyer (1/6)

Between 11th and 18th December 2010, Les Arcs European Film Festival will dedicate a focus to Denmark in order to honour the richness and creativity of its cinema. Because the Danish cinema cannot be reduced to the work of the emblematic director, Lars von Trier, the team of the festival offers you to discover the great actors, directors and films that make the history of the Danish cinema through a 8-episode series. This week, discover the father of the Danish cinema, Carl Th. Dreyer

« Cinema is my unique passion… » (Carl Th. Dreyer)

Working early, first as a clerk in a telegraph firm, then as a journalist, Dreyer rapidly began working more and more as a cinema critic and soon decided to live in accordance with his passion: cinema. In 1913, he joined Nordisk Film, a Danish production firm, for which he read, evaluated and wrote scripts. 7 years and 2 films (The President (1917) and Leaves from Satan’s book (1921)) later, Dreyer experimented many stylistic devices, making great use of flash-backs, close-ups and portraying human passions as it had never been done before in a film.  Dreyer achieved his big international breakthrough in 1925 when The Master of the House was noticed by a French production firm, Société Générale de Films which offered Dreyer to come to France where he was going to shoot a masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent masterpiece

In 1926, Carl Th. Dreyer arrived in Paris, the laboratory of European cinema at the time. to shoot a film on Joan of Arc. He didn’t want to make a traditional historical account of the young woman’s trial. He decided to tell the trial over a single day. Every shot was chronologically filmed. The film-maker insisted that the actors didn’t make themselves up. He preferred the natural nudity of the human face, which is the most accurate way to truly depict men’s passions.

Renée Falconetti


Joan of Arc is impersonated by Renée Falconetti, whose illuminated face has been remembered by generations of cinema enthusiasts.

Censored when it was released in 1928, this film was burned down twice before being rediscovered in a psychiatric hospital in Oslo in 1981, making it a legendary film in the history of cinema.

« I am a film-maker and will die as a film-maker… » (Carl Th. Dreyer)

With Vampyr (1932), Dreyer shot a very different film from The Passion of Joan of Arc. After the trying filming of Vampyr (he spent three weeks in the clinic « Joan of Arc » in Paris..), Dreyer gave up making cinema in France and went back to his home country and his first job, journalism. From 1943 to 1964, he only made three long features. Although his penultimate film, Ordet (1954) brought him international recognition – he was awarded the Gold Lion at the Venice Film Festival « for his life work », his last film, Gertrud (1964), was coldly welcomed. Critics didn’t recognize the styl of Dreyer who seemed to have forgotten all about his pictorial research, his examination of human faces, the pathos and mysticism that charcterize his films.

Dreyer died on 20th March 1968. He never made the film he dreamt of on Jesus Christ. His cinema inspired many film-makers, among whom Lars von Trier who shot Medea in 1988 after a script written by Dreyer.

>> Dreyer’s biography and filmography on the official website dedicated to the Danish film-maker.

In the coming episode, 1995, the year when Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg  revolutionized the world of cinema.



Carl Theodor Dreyer

Considered as a one of the most important director in the history of cinema, Carl Th. Dreyer (1889-1968) was not the tyranical film-maker to be remembered in the history of cinema. On the contrary, he was described as a polite and well-bred man by the actors who worked with him. He was known to prepare his films with a meticulous precision. In a 50-year-long career, beginning when cinema was still silent and ending when the French New Wave appeared, he shot 22 films, among which a renowned masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc.