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It was also around this time that Trier broke up with his first wife, married their children’s kindergarten teacher, converted to Catholicism, and, along with three other Danish directors, drew up the rules for Dogme 95, swearing to make films that reduced cinema to its raw, emotional essence: hand-held camera only, natural light and no overdubs, special effects or extraneous music. As a publicity stunt, drawing the world’s hitherto distracted attention to the fact that a group of Danish directors had decided notto make Hollywood-style movies, this was ingenious. Everyone made fun of Dogme, but it worked: Low-budget filmmaking was now equipped with a functioning ideology.
The Idiots (1998), Trier’s first and so far only official Dogme film, was a documentary-style account of a group of Danish dropouts who create a cult of pretending to be retarded, with disturbing consequences. Dancer in the Dark(2000), in which Dogme naturalism alternates with cathartic song-and-dance numbers, ended with Björk being executed in an American prison in a scene that was so moving or overwrought — take your pick — that it divided critics almost as bitterly as Mel Gibson’s Christ movie. But then, like the other two films in the “goodness” trilogy, Dancerwas obliquely a Christ movie as well.
“Yeah, I would love to be religious,” sighs the iconoclastic Catholic. “I pray to a god, but I don’t know who he is. We don’t talk, let’s put it that way.”
The next day the Danisk Bodil Awards (the Danish Golden Globes) are held in Trier’s hometown of Copenhagen, Denmark. Dogvillewins for best film, and Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, mixed in with the dramatic features, wins for best American film. Any hope that Moore will show up to harangue the Danes about their hard-line immigration policies is dashed, however, when a white-haired man seated directly in front of me walks to the stage to accept a statuette on Moore’s behalf. “Do Americans ever come to the awards?” I ask the lovely Zentropa employee sitting next to me. “Oh no, I don’t think so,” she says modestly. “It’s just Denmark.”
And very charming it is too — downright cozy, in fact. The stage is garlanded with bouquets of flowers, the ushers are dressed as bridesmaids in long, flowing white gowns and veils, and the MC sings “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” When an award is announced, the audience claps in unison as the prizewinner walks to the podium. There are no tears, no endless list of thank-yous, and as far as I can tell, no political grandstanding. In a nice touch, the prize for best actor is presented by Bodil Jorgensen, who played a pseudo–mental defective in Trier’s The Idiots, while the award for best actress is handed out by Jesper Asholt, who played a real one in another Dogme film, Mifune. Longtime Trier associate Anthony Dod Mantle takes an award for Dogville’s cinematography, and Vibeke Windelov, wearing an elaborate pink dress, accepts the big prize. Trier, who is still in Sweden, rarely shows up for Danish award shows. A good thing, too, I’m told, because he usually ends up insulting everybody.
The Danisk Bodil awards are chosen by critics, and Dogville, judging by the restrained applause, is not the people’s favorite. That would be another Zentropa production, The Inheritance. During a pre-awards show get-together in the smoky bar of a nearby hotel, Zentropa producer Ib Tardini puffs on a big cigar, and Füsun Eriksen, Trier’s dark-haired, Turkish-born assistant, excitedly tells me about seeing Nicole Kidman at Cannes:
“I was thinking she was too beautiful, and how could a man ever touch her. She’s very tall, very fragile, like a doll. She doesn’t go out without an umbrella, because she’s white like milk. While they were making Dogville, she threw a party for the cast and crew in Trollhättan, and nobody dared to ask her to dance! So finally one of the assistant cooks asked her, and she said, ‘Yes!’”
Later I speak with Thomas Gammeltoft, producer of the critically acclaimed Danish heist movie Stealing Rembrandt(2003). Gammeltoft, who looks about 40, appears to be almost bursting out of his skin with a desire to make big-budget, story-driven movies, and laments the fact that the extreme stability of Danish life makes it difficult to generate riveting narratives. The Danes love and hate Trier, he tells me, because they don’t understand his work. They all know he’s something special. They just don’t know what to do with him exactly.
Did he like Dogville himself? “No. I don’t like his films,” he replies, “but I think he’s interesting. I like The Kingdom. I think that was beautiful. Trier said himself that it was done with the left hand, and many critics in Denmark said that he should have stayed with the left hand.”
The following morning, Harry, a 36-year-old Nigerian taxi driver, takes me to Filmbyen, or “Film Town,” where Zentropa Productions has its studios. Like other immigrant cab drivers in Copenhagen, he’s smartly dressed and speaks good English, and his silver Mercedes is squeaky clean. He says he is reasonably well-treated in Denmark but complains that there is no real incentive to succeed: If he were a doctor, he’d make only slightly more money than he does sitting behind the wheel. Everyone, more or less, is middle class; there is no up and no down. I can see, from his point of view, how there might be something slightly hellish about being implanted in this model society, treated politely by all, and yet never able to integrate with it, or make enough money to rise above it, since everyone is supposed to stay at approximately the same level.