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(Danish, 1988, 106 minutes, color, video, in Danish w/English subtitles)

Directed by Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier . . . . . . . . . . Lars/Dr. Mesmer
Niels Vorsel . . . . . . . . . . Niels
Svend Ali Hamann . . . . . . . . . .Svend
Claes Kastholm . . . . . . . . . . Claes
Udo Kier. . . . . . . . . . Udo

The following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Pennsylvania State University:

Lars von Trier’s Cannes film festival hit of last spring, the neo-musical DANCERS IN THE DARK, followed his other great paradigm shattering masterpiece, 1997s close-focused drama of sexuality and religious devotion BREAKING THE WAVES. But notoriety has not brought with it celebrity, for the simple reason that the anarchic von Trier has refused it. Von Trier has been almost inaccessible to the media. He’s given few interviews since BREAKING THE WAVES, preferring instead to issue a series of inflammatory manifestos on the nature and future of cinema, a series begun during his student days. His Dogma ’95 broadside argued for a new, primitivist cinema, a tossing aside of what von Trier feels are the high-tech crutches of modern filmmaking. Rejecting a cinema he believes largely constructed in post-production, von Trier particularly abjures special effects. Like the antiseptic climate of the multiplexes in which they are shown, says von Trier, the ponderous action-adventure thrill comedies are drained of all spontaneity, even of real affect itself, substituting a concocted visual splendor for the primal excitement that only the movies can offer. But Dogma ’95 went even farther: its "11 commandments" included injunctions against camera movement, cross-cutting, artificial lighting, and widescreen, and purposely annoying hyperbole: "I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste." It’s been called a "control freaks twelve step program for the cinema," but no matter: for Lars von Trier, the "magic of the movies" occurs only when there is no magic, no cinematic sleight-of-hand. For some, the Dogma pronouncements were adolescent posturing. But for many, the Dogma manifesto was an incitement to return to basics; as Lisa Schwarzbaum admiringly put it, "Every filmmaker, regardless of stature, ought to be required, as a matter of DGA membership, to make one movie following the elaborately austere values of Dogma 95."

EpidemicEPIDEMIC is an example of the surprising variety von Trier’s minimalist approach can bring to the screen. A film about an epidemic is being made. Suddenly, the director and the screenwriter appear to contract plague-like symptoms. . . . And that is it. On this slenderest of premises, having voluntarily armed himself with only the resources of a student filmmaker, von Trier creates an intense, Alice-through-the-looking-glass tale of the intellectual seductiveness of his craft.

posterVon Trier may reject much of contemporary filmmaking as airless and mannered, but he is devoted to some important spiritual forebears. His most obvious influence is Carl-Theodor Dreyer, the Danish filmmaker whose THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and GERTRUD exposed the same spare, placid surfaces, seething with hidden passion and frustrations, that von Trier to sought to make part of his own cinematic language.

posterReflecting on his film school experience in Denmark, von Trier later wrote, "I had an almost fetishistic attraction to film technology . . . It was fantastic just to be able to touch all those appliances." By the making of EPIDEMIC, von Trier had put aside "all those appliances," and was returning to the spirit of the cinema that had so entranced the Lumiere Brothers when they set up their small wooden camera to film a few seconds of workers at a French train station, more than a hundred years ago.

— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University

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