5 Best Movies to Watch by Lars von Trier

Staff & contributors

Danish writer-director Lars von Trier concludes his so-called Depression trilogy with the two parts of Nymphomaniac, an elaborate retelling of the life of a young woman (played by Stacy Martin and then, by Charlotte Gainsbourg) lived from one libidinous pleasure to another. The film's elaborate subplots have a life of their own and flashbacks often take center stage in Joe's auto-narration. Nymphomaniac I introduces the audience to adolescence and early adulthood, through disappointments, adultery, death drive, and extreme ambivalence. Joe's process of self-actualization seems contested and inspiring at the same time, and Gainsbourg is really given the screen time to shine; even more so than in Trier's previous psycho-social drama, Antichrist. Typically for the rich treasury of cultural references, Bach, Edgar Allan Poe, and Fibonacci play crucial parts in reconstructing the symbolic planes in Joe's story. Oh, and Part One opens with Rammstein's "Führe mich", which in itself is an perfectly valid reason to give it a go.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ananya Berg, Anders Hove, Andreas Grötzinger, Charlie Hawkins, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Slater, Christoph Jöde, Christoph Schechinger, Clayton Nemrow, Connie Nielsen, Cyron Melville, David Halina, George Dawson, Hugo Speer, James Northcote, Jamie Bell, Jeff Burrell, Jens Albinus, Jesper Christensen, Jesse Inman, Johannes Kienast, Jonas Baeck, Maja Arsovic, Markus Tomczyk, Mia Goth, Michael Pas, Nicolas Bro, Peter Gilbert Cotton, Saskia Reeves, Shia LaBeouf, Simon Böer, Sofie Kasten, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgård, Tomas Spencer, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: Not Rated, NR

While being known for co-writing the Dogme 95 manifesto, Lars von Trier’s first film after breaks his rules with built sets and music added in post. Still, Breaking the Waves has plenty of von Trier’s thematic preoccupations, challenging the notions between faithfulness and sexuality by positing a married couple who cannot indulge in marital pleasure, due to being paralyzed. While the premise leads to explicit scenes, it’s more harrowing than sexy, really. It’s terribly heartbreaking as Bess does all she can for her marriage, first by praying for her husband’s return, and then following his perverse wish, partly from guilt, but partly from pleasure, even when it goes contrary to her repressive church and community. Breaking the Waves may not be an easy watch, but regardless of what you personally feel about the morality of Bess’ actions, von Trier will nevertheless bring you to empathy.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Rawlins, David Bateson, Dorte Rømer, Emily Watson, Finlay Welsh, Gavin Mitchell, Jean-Marc Barr, John Wark, Jonathan Hackett, Katrin Cartlidge, Mikkel Gaup, Phil McCall, Robert Robertson, Roef Ragas, Sandra Voe, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: R

In 1994, Danish auteur Lars von Trier came up with a TV series called The Kingdom, an absurd supernatural comedy that takes place in a rundown hospital in Copenhagen. The show was well-received enough to warrant a second season, but just as von Trier was polishing up the third and final installment, the deaths of more than one lead actor pressed pause on the project, till now.

More than 10 years in the making, The Kingdom part III, also called Exodus, is still very much centered on the weird patients and staff members that populate the Riget hospital, as well as the possible evil buried beneath it. The comedy/horror has a robot dishwasher and a giant head. Danes and Swedes are perennially at war with each other. Willem Dafoe and Alexander Skarsgard make odd cameos.

I’m not sure it’s possible to write a coherent synopsis without sounding like I’ve fallen off the rails, but know that it is a unique headscratcher of a show, more interesting as an experience than anything else. Von Trier was also openly inspired by Twin Peaks, in making it, so David Lynch fans in particular will truly enjoy diving into this world.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller, TV Movie

Actor: Annevig Schelde Ebbe, Baard Owe, Benny Hansen, Benny Poulsen, Birgitte Raaberg, Birte Tove, Claus Nissen, Claus Strandberg, Danica Curcic, Dick Kaysø, Else Petersen, Erik Wedersøe, Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Finn Nielsen, Ghita Nørby, Gordon Kennedy, Helle Virkner, Henning Jensen, Henrik Koefoed, Holger Juul Hansen, Holger Perfort, Jens Okking, Julie Wieth, Kirsten Rolffes, Kurt Ravn, Lars Lunøe, Lars von Trier, Laura Christensen, Lene Vasegaard, Lise Schrøder, Mette Marckmann, Mette Munk Plum, Michael Moritzen, Morten Eisner, Nis Bank-Mikkelsen, Ole Boisen, Ole Dupont, Otto Brandenburg, Paul Hüttel, Peter Gilsfort, Peter Mygind, Solbjørg Højfeldt, Solveig Sundborg, Søren Elung Jensen, Søren Hauch-Fausbøll, Søren Pilmark, Søren Steen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Tove Maës, Udo Kier, Ulrik Cold, Vic Carmen Sonne, Vita Jensen, Willem Dafoe

Director: Lars von Trier, Morten Arnfred

Rating: TV-MA

When categorizing Lars von Trier's oeuvre, critics speak of a "Depression Trilogy" bookended by Antichrist and Nymphomaniac, but Melancholia is the one that really embodies the concepts and worries nested at the heart of this project. The Danish director may be known for his provocative approach to filmmaking and disregard of taboos, but with this film, he makes room for vulnerability. On the character of Justine (Dunst) he places the weight of the world, only after allowing her to be weak, small, and socially unacceptable at her own wedding celebration. A rather subversive decision, but vesting these expectations in someone as wide-ranging as Kirsten Dunst assures an absolute win, even if there remain some questionable characteristics that align too well with abstract male fantasies of what a woman in distress would look like.

Genre: Drama, Science Fiction

Actor: Alexander Skarsgård, Brady Corbet, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling, Christian Geisnæs, Jesper Christensen, John Hurt, Katrine A. Sahlstrøm, Kiefer Sutherland, Kirsten Dunst, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: R

, 1991

World War II changed the fate of many countries, but most prominently that of the European continent and the United States of America. Though late to the battlefield, America was one of the victors that occupied Germany after the war, and it's this tension and setting that is at the center of Lars von Trier’s lone war drama Europa. Alternatively known as Zentropa in some territories, the film is inspired by Hollywood noir, from the black and white film to the femme fatale, but the film takes more experimental routes, starting off with lulling the viewers in a hypnotic trance, and later playing on with rear-projection and multiple layers for surreal effect. It takes noirish cynicism on a ride, exaggerating history but nonetheless reflects the way this memory is formed in the cinema of its respective countries. Europa is a fascinating breakdown of an idealist that hasn't gone through the same terrors, one that still lingers in today’s consciousness.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Baard Owe, Barbara Sukowa, Benny Poulsen, Claus Flygare, Eddie Constantine, Else Petersen, Erik Mørk, Erno Müller, Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Hardy Rafn, Henning Jensen, Holger Perfort, János Herskó, Jean-Marc Barr, Lars von Trier, Max von Sydow, Udo Kier, Vera Gebuhr

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: R