Director Lars von Trier hasn’t spoken publicly since he was charged with defamation by the French government after his comments about sympathizing with Hitler at the 2011 Cannes Festival. Now, in the process of turning his life around and recovering from substance abuse, he has broken his vow of silence in a big interview with Danish daily Politiken. An abbreviated English version is here. but below we’ve collected the nine most standout revelations.
Von Trier was addicted to drugs and alcohol.
The filmmaker wrote all of his films on a bottle of vodka a day combined with an unspecified drug. The level of intoxication allowed him to enter a “parallel world,” where ideas arose, creativity flourished and doubts vanished. He wrote “Dogville” on a 12-day high, while the script to “Nymphomaniac,” the only film he’s written while sober, took him a year and a half to complete. Though he stops short of recommending intoxicants to other filmmakers, he claims it was the key to his creativity – just like it was for David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. “If I’ve drunk a bottle of vodka or taken a gram of drugs too little in terms of optimizing my creativity, it was a crime,” he said. “To myself and the work. Because then I haven’t done my utmost.”
He’s now sober.
It was von Trier’s family who wanted him to cut down on the alcohol, and since he usually “does things purely,” he decided to make a clean break. He’s now a member of AA and has been sober for 90 days. Although he’s never liked groups, he enjoys being in AA because there are a lot of oddballs. But aside from not drinking, he can’t bring himself to follow the other steps because he doesn’t believe in God. “What’s most annoying is that I all of a sudden subject myself to life’s terms that you can’t tolerate drinking that much,” he said. “Being sober is really sad. But I am.”
He’s afraid his sobriety will result in shitty movies.
Without the drugs, von Trier fears he won’t be able to create films of the same creative quality. “I thought it would provide a revelation, but it hasn’t,” he said. “It’s a retirement job, because you don’t commit one hundred percent to what you do…It’s going downhill. It can only be crap.” Growing older, he said, artists usually become more intelligent, but lack courage and emotion. His worst fear is making “old man films,” that are “jolly and devotional with a happy ending” and a repeat of his old tricks for a wider audience, like Bergman did with “Fanny and Alexander,” which von Trier described as “pure speculation.”
This is, however, not the first time von Trier has declared his own film career to be over. In the aftermath of the harsh critical response to “The Boss of it All” in 2006, he developed severe depression, causing him to express similar doubts about his future as a filmmaker. Instead, he channeled his depressive thoughts into “Antichrist” and “Melancholia.” “Argh, I say that all the time. Pathetic!” said von Trier when Politiken’s journalist Nils Thorsen reminded him of his prior statements. And when pressured, von Trier moderated his wording from “I don’t know if I can make anymore films” to “I probably will make films.”
The press conference in Cannes was a bad idea.
The press conference for “Melancholia” in Cannes in 2011 was the first one he ever did while sober, which he regrets. “I was too friendly, because I was sober, so I hesitated and didn’t complete my points,” he said. At the conference, he got lost in an argument about being a Nazi and understanding Hitler. What he meant to say was that he discovered at the age of 33 that his father, who was half Jewish, wasn’t his biological father. That was another man of German descent. Additionally, having just watched “Der Untergang,” he was fascinated by Hitler. And while he stresses that he doesn’t sympathize with Hitler’s vision, he understands his cynicism and grandiosity. “I feel the same way as an employer when I’m cynical towards my actors to make them perform,” he said. His aesthetic fascination with the Nazi architect Albert Speer was understood by a lot of the journalists present, said von Trier, which is why they didn’t ask further. “But I could have used the question: ‘What do you really mean?'” he added. “Then everything would have fallen into place.”
He was very afraid of going to prison.
The case escalated, and von Trier became persona non grata at Cannes. The following October, he was questioned by Danish police, on the request of the French authorities, who charged him for violating a French law against justification of war crimes. That’s when it really stopped being funny for him. “I didn’t feel good about the prospect of five years in prison in Marseille,” he said. “I would be near dead after three or four days.” That’s when he took a vow of silence. “Due to these serious accusations I have realized that I do not possess the skills to express myself unequivocally and I have therefore decided from this day forth to refrain from all public statements and interviews,” he said in what would be his last public statement — until now.
He wants to continue saying the wrong things.
Von Trier said that it’s been “wonderful to shut up,” since he was always asked the same questions. But now he’s ready to engage with the public again. “It’s humiliating not to have a voice. I bloody want to be allowed to talk like everybody else and mess up and say the wrong thing,” he said. Now, he wants to “present the circumstances around my artistic expression.”
His digressions were essential to “Nymphomaniac.”
It wasn’t the exploration of female sexuality that inspired von Trier to make the sexual odyssey “Nymphomaniac.” It was the digressive structure found in literature, which he had recently taken up again. “I just wanted to make a film consisting of all the things I appreciate. So I collected all sorts of things I like and know something about and put it into a porn film,” he said. “I like that you’re at the mercy of the director and don’t know where you’re going. You just decide that fly-fishing is interesting. And almost everything you dive into becomes exciting. Digressions are wonderful.” He also brought up some examples from his film. “I like that you go into things about helicopters, and I don’t know what, because Seligman happens to just have read a book about something. Idiot,” he said. “In practical terms, it was an advantage that Seligman could interrupt Joe’s story and say, ‘Now, now! That sounds unlikely.’ And she could answer: ‘Who tells the story, you or me?’ That’s something you as a director would like to say to the audience if they believe the film is unrealistic.”
But of course, he’s interested in female sexuality.
The story about the nymphomaniac Joe had to subject itself to everything else, he said, reluctant to place any more meaning into it. “But of course I was curious about the female sex life in all its aspects,” he added. “And that’s probably…fair enough.”
He can’t decide if TV is too populist.
For his next project, von Trier is considering a TV show called “The House That Jack Built.” The house is pretty, but that’s about it. “It’s a house that Jack built, but Jack isn’t there, he said. “Like when the soup is left warm on the table. I imagine making it a meta-series, which also has a story about me directing some occasionally recalcitrant actors…But I can’t figure out if it’s too populist, when everyone else is making TV shows.”