By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Leth is full of praise for Dogville, which he sees as Trier’s attempt to renew the art of storytelling. “The only thing I don’t really like in the film is the ending, the stills from Holdt and so on,” he says. “It disturbs me, and it disturbs for me the final reading of the film. I was discussing this with Lars early on, and I suggested, quite firmly and as a friend, to change that ending. It’s too common for me. This anti-Americanism is so automatic in Europe. I hate it in a way.”
In Trollhättan, I suggest to Trier that, what with everything going on in Europe these days — the rise of the far right, the almost bafflingly sudden emergence of Islam as a social force — maybe he’s picked the wrong time to embark on a trilogy of films set in America. If Dogville is about the insertion of an outsider into a community, isn’t the Old World where the action is right now?
“Listen,” says Trier. “I don’t think it has anything to do with what country. At a certain point you need labor. In the ’70s, the Danes wouldn’t do the dirty jobs, so we imported some people, and when we didn’t need them, we wanted to get rid of them. I know that America has been open, but it is also because it was an enormous country that needed labor. So people were encouraged to come from Sweden or wherever.”
“But what I’m getting at,” I say, “is that this story is really happening in Europe, and perhaps Denmark in particular from what I read, and yet you’re projecting it into this big American narrative from a European point of view.”
“I agree,” says Trier, “that the situation is terrible in Denmark. But I’m not looking at the world to see where it’s worst. I could probably find these tendencies much stronger somewhere else. But that doesn’t make me want to make a film about Cameroon. I don’t know Cameroon.”
When Trier completes the USA trilogy, whose final installment is provisionally titled Washington, he will have directed four films set in the States — Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Manderlayand Washington —and written a fifth, Dear Wendy. All of which suggests the working-out of a major obsession. And though the films themselves may be far too complex and interesting to be reduced to their political parts (“I don’t do propaganda,” he says), the issues underlying them read like a laundry list of generic European grievances with America. Dancertakes on the death penalty, Dogville economic exploitation, Manderlayracism, Wendy guns and crime, and Washington — well, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Perhaps one day Trier will turn his gaze homeward and make a film about, say, well-fed Danish communists who proselytize for the Soviet Union while the Soviet Union starves — he could set it in his favorite decade, the 1930s, after all — but don’t hold your breath. He’s having way too much fun exploring and deconstructing the history and mythology of the world’s only superpower. “The higher up a monkey climbs,” goes an old Danish proverb, “the more you see of its bottom.” Right now, the monkey is us.
Still, Trier claims there’s plenty of love in his love-hate relationship with the U.S. “I’ve been reading John Steinbeck, Mark Twain,” he says. “I’ve actually done my best to give Dogville an American feeling, or rather myAmerican feeling. And that is why I think you should be very happy that you have my reflection of America, even though it might be untrue or whatever — because it’s mine! I’m crazy about this project. If you ask me, it should be seen by every American. To me, it’s heroic. It changes the world a little bit.”
As for Dogville’s closing credits, whose photo montage unrolls to the tune of David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” Trier describes them as “teasing.” “I have the one side that is my ideology and my politics, and the other is my feelings, and they’re struggling. My feelings have to do with filmmaking and poetry, and that made me set the film in America. And my other side made it a little crazy in the end with the closing credits. It’s very easy to argue against, because it’s just me. I’m not running for president.”
“You’re not Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
“Not even that. I met him in Cannes, you know, which was fantastic. He said — Trier puts on a big manly voice — “ ‘HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?’ And I said, ‘Terrible. I’m so afraid that everything is going to go very bad.’ ‘AH! I’M QUITE THE OPPOSITE. I ALWAYS EXPECT EVERYTHING TO GO VERY, VERY WELL!’ ” Trier laughs heartily. “But that was very interesting — very American, actually. He had a big, big cigar, a kind of cliché of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was very funny to talk to. Charisma!”
At this point, we are interrupted by Füsun Eriksen, Trier’s assistant, who signals the end of our session.