Author Anne Mette Lundtofte has written an op-ed for The New Yorker that details the “dark side” of the work culture at Lars von Trier and Peter Aalbæk Jensen’s Danish film production company Zentropa. The company has been accused in the past of being home to “toxic masculinity” at the hands of von Trier and Aalbæk Jensen, but Lundtofte details new allegations in her first-person account of life inside Zentropa.
According to Lundtofte, who spent time at Zentropa while writing about the company for her book, “Zentropia,” von Trier and Jensen set up an initiation process of sorts that required employees to strip and go skinning dipping with them. Lundtofte refers to skinny dipping with von Trier and Aalbæk Jensen as a “Zentropa ritual.”
“When you’ve stripped naked in front of Aalbæk Jensen and von Trier, you are accepted into the circle of the initiated,” she writes. Lundtofte says that the Zentropa co-founders even made Danish film critics go skinny dipping at Cannes in order to win a chance to interview Nicole Kidman, who was starring in von Trier’s “Dogville” at the time. In order to move forward with her book, Lundtofte admits she had to skinny dip, too.
“I have done it. I don’t feel good about it now, but at the time I wanted something badly: I wanted my story,” she says.
A majority of Lundtofte’s op-ed recounts the story of an anonymous woman she names “Sarah.” The woman was allegedly brought into the Zentropa legal department in January 2011 by von Trier, and was asked to remove her clothes to go skinny dipping with him. When she refused, she reportedly met with hostility from Aalbæk Jensen.
“Sarah didn’t want to strip, and she said so,” Lundtofte writes. “Aalbæk Jensen stepped in. ‘Either you jump into the pool with me,’ he told her, ‘or I’ll have to fire you.’ When Sarah refused to comply, a familiar Aalbæk Jensen cry rang out through the hallways of Zentropa: ‘Fire that bitch!'”
Lawyers at the company allegedly told Sarah that the invitation to strip was a “good thing” since it meant she was being tested by Aalbæk Jensen to “see whether she would fit into the fabric of the Zentropa family.”
“Over the next couple of weeks, Aalbæk Jensen would torment Sarah publicly (‘Didn’t you get fired? How come you’re still here?’), while backstage her co-workers would reassure her (‘That’s just Peter—he’s just testing you’),” Lundtofte writes.
Aalbæk Jensen allegedly gave Sarah a second chance to stay with the company by allowing her to come up with a “creative solution to her problem.” Sarah proceeded to buy a cream sponge cake and throw it in his face. She was soon fired from the company.
Earlier this year, nine former Zentropa employees made sexual harassment allegations against Aalbæk Jensen and other staffers at the company. Zentropa CEO Anders Kjærhauge issued a statement responding to the claims by vowing to improve the company’s work environment.