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The Danisk Bodil awards are chosen by critics, and Dogville, judging by the restrained applause, is not the peoples 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, Triers 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. Shes very tall, very fragile, like a doll. She doesnt go out without an umbrella, because shes 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 dont understand his work. They all know hes something special. They just dont know what to do with him exactly.
Did he like Dogville himself? No. I dont like his films, he replies, but I think hes 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, hes 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, hed 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.
Filmbyen is in a former army barracks in the citys Hvidovre suburb. Theres a swimming pool, tennis courts, a dining room, Ping-Pong and pool tables, and a sauna, but the luxuries are kept to a minimum. The studio is organized on broadly socialist lines, and, sensibly, the money goes into films rather than Ferraris. Trier, along with his good friend Thomas Vinterberg, director of the international Danish Dogme hit Celebration, has an office in what is known as the bullet room, a small one-story building where ammunition was once stored. An American tank, kept in working order, stands nearby, and the interior of the editing facilities is painted the exact mint-green used in the States on Death Row. (Its meant to calm you.) There are several sound stages, along with documentary, youth and pornography divisions, and even school rooms where children from the provinces are taught the rudiments of filmmaking. Theres also a large film set, called Pocahontas Square, a replica of a town center in New Mexico, used in Dear Wendy, a film written by Trier and directed by Vinterberg (its currently being edited) about redneck American gun nuts.
It is here, in Filmbyens sunlit HQ, that I meet Peter Aalbaek Jensen, who describes himself as the muscle to Triers brain. Hes the same age as Trier but looks older, with thinning hair, a salt-and-ginger beard and a modest paunch. We have a game of Ping-Pong before sitting down to talk. Though he is unapologetic about his youthful communist phase, and still jokingly refers to the U.S. as enemy territory (hes made two very brief trips to the country, venturing no further into the interior than the west side of Manhattan), Jensen admits to being a little more mainstream these days. In the entrance of the editing complex theres a lengthy quotation from Chairman Mao stenciled on the wall. Over it, however, someone has stuck a piece of paper with a purported quote from Margaret Thatcher: A man who will not work . . . shall not eat!