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on 3 September 2005
Lars von Trier fans of the world, rejoice!! Finally, his first three films - subtitled The Europe Trilogy, for their repeated themes of post-war devastation, optimistic main characters, and corrupt villains, etc - have been made available for the first time in this lovely box-set; which includes re-mastered versions of all three films with commentaries throughout by von Trier and his collaborators, behind the scenes documentaries, interviews, short-films, trailers, biographies and more. The three films all look stunning, with von Trier personally supervising the re-mastering of the original prints and the overall sound-design. This was the period when von Trier could definitely have been referred to as the most visually distinctive filmmaker on the planet, and it shows, with the young filmmaker using everything from strong colour filters, moody lighting, crane-shots, tracking shots, front and rear-screen projection, composition, forced perspectives and distinctive production design, to create a surreal world that draws heavily on the combined influence of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, Tarkovsky's Stalker, and the collected works of Franz Kafka.
His first film, The Element Of Crime, is a moody colour-tinted European-noir unfolding in a post-apocalyptic city, where a hound-dog detective must search for a vicious child-murderer using only the book written by his mentor as a guide. The story is, of course, preposterous, with von Trier pitching the whole thing halfway between Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and the aforementioned Tarkovsky epic, with the film's sepia-printed dreamscapes giving way to an angst-ridden internal struggle for it's central character. von Trier leaves a lot of the deeper implications of the plot for the audience to work out, seemingly more concerned with navigating his camera around a series of nightmarish underground labyrinths where the story plays out. For some, it's a shallow attempt to pastiche the masters of European cinema in the guise of pulp fiction, whilst for others, it's a mysterious and evocative series of hallucinations and one of the most visually astounding works of "neo-noir" ever created. Regardless of where you stand; there's no denying the sheer talent of the young von Trier and his cinematic cohorts, as they breeze through the various codes and symbols synonymous with the genre, subverting the notion of both noir and science-fiction with a bleak and, to some extent, expressionistic thriller that is, quite possibly, unlike anything else you'll ever see.
The second part of the trilogy is a different beast entirely... a world away from the serious and overly constructed jumble of signs and signifiers found in The Element Of Crime. According to von Trier, Epidemic began as a bet between himself and the head of the Danish Film Institute who claimed that von Trier would be incapable of producing a film for no more than one million kroner. von Trier accepted the bet and produced Epidemic... a self-aware mock-documentary, inter-cut with outlandish scenes of an idealistic doctor flying across the Danish countryside in a helicopter, in order to stop a plague that is quickly spreading, cross country. The film is absurd, but a great deal of fun regardless (something we're not entirely used to from the auteur behind heartbreaking melodramas like Breaking The Waves and Dancer In The Dark), with the real director and screenwriter (von Trier and Niels Vørsel) playing the respective director and writer in the film within a film. von Trier even goes one further by appearing in the film's beautifully composed fantasy scenes (the film within the film within the film!!) as the abovementioned doctor, whilst his ex-wife appears briefly as a nurse. It's certainly not a film for everyone... the documentary footage is dodgy, with von Trier and Vørsel improvising lines about the nature of writing in front of a camera that wavers in a style not too dissimilar to his later TV epic, The Kingdom, whilst the fantasy sequences feature violent death, hypnosis, and men stood screaming, submerged in a lake. It's all good fun, and does at least have a sense of adventure and imagination about it... something that is all too rare in most films these days.
At the end of the day, Epidemic remains a little-seen curio (this is the first ever release of the film on any format in the UK!!), certainly not on the same level as the wonderful, if slightly enigmatic Element Of Crime..., which, in turn, is somewhat inferior to the most vital film in this collection, 1991's Europa. Europa is one of my very favourite films; a mysterious and purposely elusive neo-noir set shortly after the fall of Germany in the Second World War; shot through with references to the German expressionist cinema of Murnau and Lang, and with further references to similar films like Sabotage and The Third Man. von Trier's dizzying use of camera-tricks sets it out as one of the most beautiful films ever created, with the rich black and white cinematography (from Dryer's regular cinematographer Henning Bendtsen) giving way to sweeping crane shots, elaborate composition (a bird-eye-view of a manner house following the character from room to room ends up on a shot that looks more like a piece of abstract, expressionist art) and the use of front and rear-screen projection, which allows von Trier and his crew to juxtapose the black and white with vivid bursts of colour to denote the key-characters and scenarios within the film.
I'd go so far as to hail Europa as a masterpiece of pure cinematic invention, and a testament to von Trier's skill as a visual filmmaker without equal; before he founded the Dogme manifesto and moved into more minimalist filmmaking. The themes and concerns found in these films prefigure the notions explored in later projects like The Idiots, Breaking The Waves and the more recent Dogville, with these idealistic characters ultimately bringing about their own-downfall as their idealism gives way to arrogance. This box-set is absolutely vital for anyone with an interest in von Trier's career, with the three films lovingly restored and packaged; whilst the inclusion of von Trier's short films and various documentaries related to the man and his work allows us to revaluate von Trier' position as one of the most important filmmakers currently at work. It therefore goes without saying that The Europe Trilogy box-set is, without question, the best DVD release of the year.
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on 18 April 2006
There really aren't that many people who can be said to have totally altered the way we perceive film as an art form but Lars Von Trier is one such man. That may sound like pseudo-artsy bull but anyone who's seen any of his films would agree. The films in this trilogy cross so many genres and visual styles in such a stunning and idiosyncratic fashion that it is virtually impossible to actually describe them. Quite simply, you have to watch them. I'll have a go at describing the basics though:

Element Of Crime plays like a beautiful cross between The Maltese Falcon and Apocalypse Now as Elphick's hero gradually becomes immersed in a deranged world of vice and utterly deranged goings-on. There are dozens of cinephile in-jokes within the film (like the fact that some shots are set up to deliberatly resemble scenes from The Maltese Falcon) and if you get these you can feel very smug with yourself for knowing a bit of film, that said I've probably missed loads myself and I'm none the worse for it, it's still great entertainment. Some truly brilliant visuals, especially the scenes on the beach and with the butchery in the river. All in all a pretty staggering breakthrough into the world of cinema.

Epidemic is a totally different film, made on a tiny budget with almost no cast whatsoever. The great use of colour in Element Of Crime is replaced with a stark black & white which sets off the depressing, pessimistic mood very aptly. The word 'Epidemic' appearing in the top-left corner of the screen when typed into a typewriter and staying there for the entire duration of the film is an indication of the almost documentary feel some of the film has. Again it's apocalyptic, again great visuals (and a truly excellent use of real-life hypnosis-enduced screaming by some poor woman they managed to manipulate into believing she was living through a plague). About time this was seen in the UK, thank-you Tartan.

Europa is simply one of the best films ever made, it surpasses the other two just on the sheer weight of its genius. The visual effect of layered back projection which permeates the entire film is like watching several Hitchcock backdrops overlapping into something totally cohesive and mesmerizingly deep. The use of colour and black & white on the screen at the same time (for instance a character will enter in colour onto a screen in black & white, another character will move past them, off screen, and then re-appear in the next frame in colour as well, by which time the initial character might be black & white again) is done with such subtlety and ingenuity that it never becomes confusing or straining on vision but is always stunning. There has never been a film that looks like Europa. The narration by Max Von Sydow is perfectly paced and truly eerie, especially when over the train-track and drowning scenes. The continual feel that this is about the war and war guilt but yet not really about either comes from Von Trier's own family experiences and makes for a unique vision. Along with Werckmeister Harmoniak by Bela Tarr this is the greatest piece of visual cinema to be produced in decades.

The extras are ridiculously excessive, with more documentaries than you could shake several sticks at but this is not a bad thing, on the contrary, more is more. Some very interesting stuff about how they made the films (Europa took three years to make and you can see why, all those storyboards!) and some very good interviews with all involved.

Great films, great extras, great release by Tartan. If only more people would buy this and stop saying Jaws is the best movie ever made.
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on 31 October 2012
I bought this set a while ago, and only started watching it today. As I stress in the title, my two stars refer to the quality of these dvds, not of the films. I have only watched the first dvd so far (Element of Crime). The combination of bad sound quality, a lot of mumbling and strange accents made me reach for the remote to turn on subtitles. Surprise! There are more than a dozen different options for subtitles, but the only English ones are subtitles of some commentary, not of the film! I had to made do with French or German subtitles, which was quite annoying. Had I known that the sound was so bad, I would not have bought the box set. If you, like me, have invested in a good quality tv and only buy original dvds in order to ensure high quality viewing, I don't think you'll be very happy with this box set.
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Seen together, Lars Von Trier's Europa trilogy isn't exactly a profound experience, but it does underline the fact that even when he's boring he's never dull. On one level, none of them should work and none of them do, yet on another there's an audacity to them that engages far more than the subject matter: at times, the hypnotic execution is more than enough to compensate for the narrative confusion. Indeed, the whole trilogy seems to be driven by dreams and trances. Element of Crime is a tale emotionlessly told by a detective under hypnosis, his lack of passion in his voice-over often mirrored by the artificiality of the performances and the dreamlike imagery of a burned out, waterlogged Europe that feels like one of the fevered headaches that consume him as he becomes the monster he is supposedly tracing down. Epidemic even ends with an apocalyptic hypnotic trance as the parasitic pair of Von Trier and his insufferably smug screenwriter Niels Vorsel, who have been feeding on the pain and misery of others for inspiration for a script, even turning a painful memory from Udo Kier into a scene in their proposed film, ultimately reap what they sow. A mixture of the odd great image (Von Trier's doctor hanging from a rope with a Red Cross flag attached) and the mundane, it's an apt reminder of just how similar the act of artistic creation can be to a contagious disease that wounds those who come into its orbit.

Europa, aka Zentropa, opens with Max Von Sydow's unseen narrator hypnotising the audience to bring them into the film. The film itself is the closest to a mainstream narrative of the trilogy, but even here Von Trier is constantly undercutting his noirish plot - an idealistic American becomes a pawn in the amoral politics of post-War Germany still plagued by the Nazi `Werwolf' resistance movement - with both strikingly expressionistic imagery (not least an audacious use of backprojected images) and that trademark fevered confusion until mindless destruction seems the only release. Of the three, this is the most visually audacious, with a superb use of black and white scope imagery that helps compensate for the awful performances by Jean Marc-Barr and Barbara Sukowa (who once again proves that she may be able to speak English and German but she can't act in either of them). Still, the presence of Ernst-Hugo Jaregard (so wonderful in The Kingdom) ensures that not all the cast are carved from wood.

Full marks for the excellent presentation - not only is Europa/Zentropa finally presented in 2.35:1 (the previous issue from Tartan was cropped to 1.85:1) but there are a huge number of interviews and documentaries spread over the three discs and the bonus fourth disc telling you everything you could want to know and more (sadly at least one doc is not subtitled in English). As well as trailers (including additional trailers for all Von Trier's films to date) and audio commentaries, there are two interesting Easter Eggs - Von Trier's graduation film Images of Relief (on Epidemic) and the short film Nocturne on Element of Crime.
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on 20 August 2015
This trilogy is essential in modern cinema. It is the absolute negation of Marshall McLuhan who has demonstrated one hundred times that the medium is the message and the message is the massage. Lars von Trier pretends that he wants to remain absolutely neutral in giving to the audience the rough and raw world he is contemplating. These three films are progressively bringing to the surface in sharp focus a German film maker who is absolutely haunted by the crimes he committed directly up to 1991 or indirectly via his parents, relatives, acquaintances and friends like Gunter Grass. He is obnubilated and what he says is that the Americans, and in fact all the allies, western and eastern, have saved that guilt, remorse, regret, nostalgia of a glorious ten or twelve years when killing was an asset and a glorious achievement

Some may say that Germany is back on such trails, tracks, railroads and railways after reunification, after the top jobs having shifted to East Germans, after the financial crisis of 2009, after the European debt crisis of 2012, after the Irish crisis and then the Portuguese, Spanish, Greek crises, and the Italian and French “debt problem(s)” looming behind, not to speak of the refugee crisis across the Mediterranean Sea. Is Germany to be “Über alles” again and impose its leadership to the whole Europe? With the lackluster and mediocre leaders some countries are putting on the table we could think it might be an easy task and Lars von Trier would be amazed to have been such a prophet of the return of the werewolves. As if we were on the last page of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series to find out it is the same as the very first page of the very first volume, some eight volumes and four or five thousand pages before.


The first thing to say concerns the atmosphere and the style of the film. It is bleak. It is dark. The only color is a few dots of red in a lot of black. We are always or nearly always underground, in tunnels, galleries, with running water, in sewers or equivalent places. It is always the night with just some red lights or fire cutting the darkness. Then when we are inside some buildings they are just like outside, in ruins, dirty, bleak, dark, bad hotels when it is not some kind of indescribable refuge for human rats. It is supposed to be Europe, some reduce it to Germany, after WW2 and it is just a vast wasteland abandoned to its own irreversible decay.

The characters are two let’s say ex-cops. One, Osborne, has fallen out of grace though he is the head and thinker of the film, and the other one, Fischer, is an ex-cop who ran away from police work to find some peace in Cairo. One day he accepts to be hypnotized by a doctor to try to find some solution to a case that is haunting him. This explains the blurred and fuzzy images, the lack of details and the concentration on desolation and a few details here and there that are hardly visible and recognizable or identifiable.

The only interest of the film, apart from this dystopian if not suicidal vision of Europe, is that Osborne advocates a special method to deal with serial killers. You have to enter their minds and penetrate their motivations. Why do they do this, why do they do it like that, and thus understand every single detail of the pattern of serial killers because they follow patterns. This is profiling as it was at the time devised by the FBI in Quantico. But the film shows that the cop runs a risk: he will little by little get into the tracks if not the footsteps of the killer in order to stop him by knowing what his next crime will be. He thus becomes the serial killer, and not only in a way, in reality. He has to stop and he did stop just in time.

I am not sure that the fact the prostitute he uses all along has had a child by the killer Harry Grey adds anything to the plot except that Fischer is thus put some more in the position and even place of the killer to make us even doubt whether he is not the killer himself. That’s the five seconds of tragedy, or rather melodrama. Of course we do not really know what is the past, what is the hypnosis or what is a new trip to Europe. Chronology is not important at all.

A film that is difficult to really penetrate because of this somber darkness that wraps everything, every detail in some unbearable horror. We are like repulsed by it more than in anyway attracted to it. Horrified no, terrified no, grossed out for sure.


Everything gas to be minimal, and minimal is everything. Black and white of course. Minimal camera, film, format, special effects, if any. Everything has to be really happening the way you see it, or nearly that way. Because the end is not exactly that really real and realistic.

A virus destroys the scenario that was on a floppy disk of one of those first text processors from before GUIs and PCs. So Lars and Niels have five days to produce a scenario and they are no longer interested by the one they have just lost, “The cop and the whore,” which would have been a remake of “Element of Crime.” So they start a new scenario from scratch in five days or so. I guess the virus got into them like a gremlin into some computer and they decide to get into the description of some epidemic in modern times.

The details are not really interesting. What is important is the treatment of the subject. If you have to only show real images and situations, how can you show a modern plague on the model of Milano under attack from the Black Death in 1348, bricking up in their houses the families that were infected for them to die inside their houses and not contaminate the others. Pure egotistic selfish absurdity anyway. Those viruses were transported by rats that do not know what bricks are and they can always go through if necessary, and they were probably already out. And the virus is like Father Christmas: it can go up and down chimneys.

Then they can go in archive underground with walls totally infected with some saltpeter like ulmcers in the plaster popping up regularly. That looks like some plague too. And then they get some facts that are told about this old plague. And if you cannot really show the new modern plague, at least you can show the scenario writers writing their scenario. And you can get into their minds and listen to what they see in their mind’s eye, how they see the film, the characters, etc. So there are a few cameos about that fictitious plot that ends in the most absurd way, but you’ll have to discover it yourself.

To add some modern realistic flavor they have one man telling what his mother told him about the way a whole set of people were parked or packed in some hole full of water and made to die slowly by the Nazis. We can believe that, in fact we can believe any horror about the Nazis. So no problem and we have seen so many images of these horrible events that we can put such pictures on the words. The film is only showing the self-imposed torture of the man telling what his mother had told him just before dying.

And we can also send the two scenario writers on a quick trip to Germany and have some infernal vision of cables, highways, tunnels, and all those means of transportation that would be the best vectors for any epidemic in modern times. Our cars are modern rats in a way. And I will say nothing about buses, trains, planes, and what the Canadians call char-à-bancs.

And that is what Lars von Trier is doing all the time, shifting us from any period of time and any place to any other period of time and any other place. He even includes a pathology department in some hospital and a dissection to reveal some glandular tissue change, small little pea-looking globules that develop no one knows why and how. Fifteen cases yesterday, mind you. Once again we are in for a séance of grossing out. But the final one is a champion in the genre, in the style, in the ambition to make us sick.

Lars von Trier uses a trick he has already used in “Element of Crime” and that is hypnosis. If you cannot take the producer of the film who is on a quick visit to Denmark to the plague itself evoked in the 12 page scenario, or rather sketch, you can bring a woman (of course it has to be woman, don’t ask me why, but it has to be a woman) who is hypnotized by a man (and it has to be a man here too, don’t ask me why but it has to be a man) and she is thus projected into the epidemic film and she describes the epidemic, what she sees, to the point of catching the disease, though it happens to her after it had happened to the first scenario writer, probably Lars if it is not Niels, and she develops, like him on his arm, ulcers on her neck and she gets crazy and she punctures the ulcers with a fork and she kills herself. How’s that as for a demonstration of the power of the plague, of the film seen as a contagious and killing fatal lethal deadly epidemic?

Altogether I am still not convinced as for that film technique that illustrates a famous manifesto cosigned by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, Dogme 95 and the Vow of Chastity. But what I am becoming convinced of is that if you try to only give true real material facts on the screen, you are spreading around the matter necessary to psychoanalyze you, which I hate. So I won’t try to see how sick Lars von Trier is. But one thing is sure. That film technique is revealing the tremendous guilt some have in their mind and conscience. All beautiful stories, love stories and adventures, action films and horror films based on nothing but science fiction and special effects, utopia and dystopia, all that produces an audience that is blasé, that does not believe in anything any more and that does not even know reality is really horrible, provided you accept to look at it instead of all the fictional depictions of it that only suspend your disbelief fifteen minutes and then let you go on living in the dreamlike reality you imagine you are all the time blind and deaf to any horror, mute of course like a dumb thumb when you should shriek and yell, howl and protest.

Leonard Cohen got it right right: “I am blind, don’t pass me by.” But the audience is blind and it is them, every single member of that audience who passes by the real horror and does not see it because they have been made blind to it by the cinema of the cinema industry in Hollywood, Bollywood and Saint Denis.

But does Lars von Trier make us able again to see the real reality of our real modern world? I am not sure because the body, the flesh, the blood and adrenalin matter we are transporting on our bones and feet, is not more able to see horror than this blind audience Lars von Trier is speaking of, because we do not see with our eyes only, with our body only, because we see first of all with our mind, and minimalist films like this one do not make us think one iota more than “Star Trek” or Star Wars.” And some people would disagree with what I have just said. And I might not disagree with them.


This film, finally and at last, makes sense, though in 1991 it is a strange way to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. But sense it makes because the splitting of Germany in two was the only way the West, the victors could deal with what was absolutely still alive and kicking, that is to say Nazism and the obligation for most Germans to go on being Nazis because they had been Nazis and now they felt guilty about being defeated Nazis in their minds as much as remorseful about not being victorious Nazis, and maybe never being able to be any day.

The film is so clear about that. There is no doubt, no question asked. Everyone agrees and we are shown what they were able to do. The only hope the Americans, the allies had, was to get some of the big wheels of the regime on their side because they were industrialists for example and they were needed and they could be bought, cleaned up with some false Jewish witnesses and then whitewashed innocent.

But the Nazis in 1945 were everywhere and they were holding everyone who were werewolves at night and human in the day time. A Jew could make you “innocent” but then you were the target of the underground Nazis because the Nazi party was not Hitler but was the upper class in Germany with the support of 90% of all Germans still in 1945. So you could buy one of them but you had to take him as far as the USA for his security. When you have said that, you have the film on your palm because there is nothing else to say. How did Germany survive? How did they deal with their past and their memory and their guilt? That’s not the question of the film. That’s the pedestal of the German statue and that pedestal is not mud or sand. It is concrete, pure stone, stainless steel.

The film though has another dimension that makes it absolutely effective this time not because it terrifies us, not because it could horrify us, certainly not because it might gross us out. It is effective because it frightens us to the point of making us wet and soil our pants like a little baby in the middle of the dark night. It frightens us because it is still what the Germans are. This guilt, this deeper layer of crime and enjoyment in that crime is still there even in the younger generations because it was kept alive by the Cold War, because it was kept alive by the division of Germany, because it was kept alive by both the western pro-American side and the eastern pro-Soviet side.

Worse even than that is the fact that the reunification was the best way to erase the past, to erase the guilt, to finally be German again, conquering, proud, above all and everyone else. The every symbol of that is not visible yet in 1991 because the East Germans had to climb a lot of steps to take over the political machinery of the Bundes Republik, but it only took something like twelve years or so. Lars von Trier in his frightening vision of what it was in 1945 is projecting it into what it was going to be in 2015. In seventy years the full fledged reunified bossy and domineering Germany was to come back and tell Europe this time what was good for them, the Europeans, maybe, the Germans for sure, and good for the world, the Germans of course, the Europeans maybe and the Americans, if they play it nice for German business.

Yet the film seems to suggest that some sacrifice will have to be made by the Nazi side of history, getting rid of some of their werewolves who could betray, getting rid of their too obvious and visible presence in the full light of day. They had to go underground and they had to dive and settle deep in the minds of people. And that is definitely a genial side of the film. The Nazis are mental and ideological and not an SS militia any more.

The film, from beginning to end, is led by a hypnotizer who tells the main character to go back to 1945 and then to jump to this place and this time, in chronological order. But this character is dead as we learn at the end. So who is that hypnotizer hypnotizing if not us and no one else but us. He is manipulating us into believing he is manipulating the character who is strutting on the screen in a makeshift German uniform whereas he is manipulating us and that is even more frightening than what I have said so far because we are the accomplices of this situation, the accessories of this criminal intention and project, of both the Americans who are trying to take control of the country, but also of the underground Nazis who are trying to save the independence of Germany from sheer humiliation and colonial enslavement.

Lars von Trier makes us feel guilty because we supported the splitting of Germany to keep that basically imperialistic country under control. And in 1991 when Germany reunified we started running away, escaping, fleeing in our minds because we understood that Germany was back and with a vengeance to take. Was he right? Was he wrong? Are we still mentally being chased and hunted by our fright and fear? Maybe yes, maybe no, I don’t really know, or don’t really want to know, but for sure we cannot ignore the question.

We can then wonder if this film is really representative of the Dogma 95 manifesto and The Vow of Chastity Lars von Trier and consorts signed and advocated for the cinema or at least their cinema, a sectarian minimalist approach of the fundamental means of communication, the central TV and cinema medium for which the message is the massage, the medium is the message that means the basically sacrilegious ritualistic enslavement of the mind to some cool feeling of comfort in front of images and messages that caress us comfortably where it feels nice and matters.

But the color frames now and then are absolutely unrealistic and they emphasize the moments when there is some emotion, some emotional dimension in the situation. That is not minimalist. This is direct intervention of the director on our vision. And the hypnotist is definitely a means to take the control of our minds, of our reflection, of our thinking. “The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable.” So far three films, “Element of Crime,” “Epipdemic” and “Europa,” in black and white and the third one with a subtle play on color frames in the vast ocean of black and white pictures.

“Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden” as if the hypnotist was not a way to play on temporal and geographical alienation, depravation, even traumatization. You can tell me that one-sided manifesto was written in 1995, four years after the third film, but it is then a denial of all they have done so far, and it is when Lars von Trier is finally coming to some convincing discourse that he edicts his pronouncement that tells us all that he has done so far has to be discarded and the audience who was starting to find some interest in all has it all wrong and there the director is a terrorist who tells the audience they can go get lost in some antipodean place somewhere on another planet.



I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by DOGMA 95:
Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.)
The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera.)
Optical work and filters are forbidden.
The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
Genre movies are not acceptable.
The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
The director must not be credited.
Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a “work”, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.
Thus I make my VOW OF CHASTITY.
Copenhagen, Monday 13 March 1995
On behalf of DOGMA 95
Lars von Trier & Thomas Vinterberg
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on 11 January 2016
At last, the first trilogy of Lars von Trier has been released by Tartan Films. In an excellent transfer visually and in its audio quality, the European Trilogy is faithfully reproduced in here. Displaying in here all his love for the German art (German expressionism, Nazi aesthetic) and for other film genres like Film Noir and Thrillers, and Apocalypses, Lars von Trier offers a foray of what he would reveal in his future films. Impressive technical effects, though all of them suffer the same weakness he later recognized. An emotional coldness that hurts the access of this film for audiences. Something that his family life taught to him. Until an important revelation on his mother's deathbed about his real biological father made him search for a quest of truth that would soon glitter out in his future films.
Though with the special features inside, like the future film Nocturne, and other documentaries like how his crew defends him as a very nice and decent human being, offer very accessible and human analysis of the genius that is Lars von Trier both as an artist and as a philosopher.

Element of Crime (3/5)
"The worst thing that can happen in the name of science is when the system becomes all-important" - Lars von Trier
Before doing his wonderful "Kingdom", then his "Golden Heart", his "American", and his "Depression" trilogies, Lars von Trier did another series of movies he called "The Europa trilogy". Movies that revolved around Europe's social issues in a possible future; which he started in 1984 and completed in 1991. Among them was his first movie, "The Element of Crime", that he presented at Cannes in 1984, where the jury awarded him a technical prize, but no Golden Palm mostly due to the hostile reaction of Dirk Bogarde, President of the Jury that year. Then again, several members of that same jury were sympathetic toward the filmmaker, among them Isabelle Huppert who, ironically, would end up seeing and awarding Lars's Antichrist when she would be President of Jury in 2009.
As a fan of Lars von Trier, I have appreciated many of his movies for their rich stories, the excellent acting and editing, but also their humanity, their sincerity, their emotions, and the excellent roles his female actresses always get to play. Movies where he got to express, as Katrin Cartlidge once explained, his "emotional side". Which he then cohabited with his "technical side" during his "Depression Trilogy" (Antichrist, Melancholia, and Nymphomaniac). Technical side that was very present in "Element of Crime". Too much present.
Indeed when watching the movie, I felt that in focusing too much on his camera effects, his lighting, and his cinematography, Lars had neglected the storyline and the characters. In other words, the human side of the story. Because if I were doing a film noir like Element of Crime, which concerns a detective who tries to stop a serial killer from attacking little girls, I would focus a lot on the characters' pain and emotions. But here, we don't have any of that. The story is cold, detached, and the acting's wooden. Giving me the feeling that in focusing too much on his special effects, Lars had inadvertently installed a glass panel between himself, the audience, and the characters. Making us indifferent to the story and to the characters , but also distorting their real reactions, making them on screen wooden, forced, and frigid. Not only that, some of the dialogues were very confusing, had nothing to do with the story, and dragged the movie instead of advancing it. Making me wonder if the movie wouldn't have been better if trimmed to a shorter length.
Now I don't deny the visual qualities of the movie. Using no computer effects, but many lights, smokes, monochrome palettes, and human pyrotechnical effects, Lars has done here one visual spectacle of German expressionism. But as a story, I felt "Element of Crime" could have been better, and he admits it in the book "Trier on Trier" he did with Stig Bjorkman. In that book, he admitted his script mistakes, his detachment to the characters, to the story, but also the terrible dialogue.
So personally, I take "The Element of Crime" as a pre-version of the Lars von Trier we all know today. The remains of a Lars von Trier that had followed the philosophy his family had taught him all his life. Which was to refrain and condemn his emotions. A stupid philosophy he broke off when doing the Kingdom, then his masterpiece of a movie called "Breaking the Waves" he did with Emily Watson, Katrin Cartlidge, and Stellan Skarsgard.
PS: During "Element of Crime", one to the characters narrates the tale of "The House that Jack built". Detail that ironically foreshadows his upcoming TV series, but also his upcoming "fairy tale" storytelling done in a modern setting.

Epidemic (4/5)
"You have read the words! Enter the film! Enter Epidemic!" - The medium
Before the Danish film director Lars von Trier got his worldwide success with The Kingdom and his marvelous Breaking the Waves, he made a trilogy called The trilogy of Europe. Movies whose titles start with the letter E and dealt with the traumas of Europe. Past, present, and possible future. And in the eighties, with the Cold War and fear of attack, there came the panic of imminent death from a nuclear apocalypse. Something that medicine could not cure. And with the apparition of AIDS in the worldwide language, death through an incurable illness could be an unpleasant possibility. So with this film, Lars von Trier and his co-writer Niels Vorls attempt to dive into that subject matter. That is a plague epidemic that spreads through Denmark, Germany, Europe, and, as a possibility, the world. Catastrophe scenario that, in Hollywood, would involve lots of death, guts, and gore. The kind of script you'd see in a zombie film like Night of the Living Dead.
Unfortunately for fans of that horror genre, this is not what happens in Epidemic.
In it, Lars and Niels, playing their own roles as writers, try to summon a new script that they want to present to a Danish Film Institute Executive producer. Abandoning their former detective story with a cop and a prostitute (small nod to Element of Crime!), their new project revolves around a bubonic plague epidemic. Reminder of a crucial past in Europe's medieval history, Epidemic's title appears on the screen the minute the characters start writing their work. Half-diving into scenes from the script then going back to the authors' ups-and-downs trying to write it, the movie happens through this back-and-forth as chapters, an upcoming feature for Lars's future films, appear on the screen. Titles for the days of writing until the eventful meeting, their presence make us dread the dramatic conclusion the movie's narrator warns us about at the beginning. A dramatic irony that the characters are unaware of except us and which epitomizes the thematic of this film. The coincidences between fiction and reality when they blur together and how, when tragedies we take for granted as fictional or of the past do occur, the possibility of escape becomes impossible.
Unlike Element of Crime, whose human interactions were disjointed, confusing, and cold, I preferred Epidemic. Stronger presence of human interactions, emotions, and drama, the story's easier to connect to. This is a movie that presents the reality of scriptwriting, that is the friendship and complicity between scriptwriters as they try to organize their plotline. Speaking of plotlines, it's interesting to see Niels and Lars painting on the apartment's wall their plot's progression because that is what Lars also does in his Zentropa office. A fact that further strengthens the blur between reality and fiction with this film.
At times, the movie fluctuates like a dialogue. With digressions going on subjects like Niels correspondences with American girls to the actor Udo they meet in Cologne and listen to his grief over his mother's death and, as I was happy to see, his condemnation of the racist belief surrounding Germans that they are all Nazis. Which too many people still believe even today and which we got a troubling example through the British reporter Kate Muir from The Times of London who, during Lars's Melancholia press conference (still available on Cannes's website and which I watched in May 2011 the day it happened), dove in right after Charlotte Higgins's (The Guardian) intervention about "Tristan und Isolde" and attacked Lars with this question:
"Kate Muir from the Times of London. My question follows on from the German Romantic thing. Can you talk a bit about your German roots and the Gothic aspect of this film. (Lars:gossip?) And also, you mentioned in a Danish Film Magazine also about your interest in the Nazi Aesthetic and you talked about that, German roots, at the same time. Can you tell us a bit more about that?" (Cannes Melancholia Press Conference 2011, 34:30 to 34:57)
A wordy question that insinuated a sick display of germanophobia as she connected together his taste for the Nazi culture with his "German roots", that is his secret biological father's blood: the German Fritz Michael Hartmann who, when Lars met him, NEVER recognized him as his son and NEVER had any influence in Lars's life and art. A filthy "personal taste-blood" connection she accused Lars of doing during his interview for a Danish film Magazine she never took the time/decency/professionalism to identify in her question at Cannes, but later revealed as the Danish Film Institute Magazine Film #72 in her May 20th 2011 article "No let-off this time for the enfant terrible after "Nazi" rant". Article that she wrote as an excuse for asking her sick blood-racist question and where she has the nerve of twisting the words Lars used to describe Inger Høst's (his mother) deathbed revelation about his biological father being Hartmann rather than Ulf Trier — fact every fan of Lars von Trier knows and which every biography describes and which any common film critic should know regarding Lars as it's the central pillar of his cinema — to state instead that he was talking about his mother being a German. Inaccurate reporting that proves her quill is as much as a "quick-quotes" as her accusation that Lars spoke about his German blood and his taste for the Nazi culture TOGETHER as they were instead mentioned in complete different contexts during the Danish Film Institute Interview. That is his secret biological father during an enumeration of his passion for Nietzsche and his current reading of Thomas Mann to show the irony that his whole life (artistic and private) has revolved around Germany; while for his taste for the Nazi culture in another context where he was describing his opinion that the Nazis' Stuka's artistic design was more impressive and memorable than the British's Spitfire. Artistic belief, not ideological, that I strongly suspect is the real "root" of Kate Muir's attack on Lars as the UK has extreme pride and nostalgia over its military history — especially for World War 2 — and Lars's artistic opinion could be seen, for many British people, as a "whole spiel" which was how she described his Nazi aesthetic interest in her May 20 2011 article I wrote about earlier.
In the end, her question and accusation at Cannes had the result of making Lars uncomfortable — as he was Jewish but not practicing, as his family is raised under that culture (ex:children' names) just like he was by his parents as a child — and made him reply with sarcastic Danish and Jewish jokes (badly formulated and without a punch because of that stressful situation he did not expect and which made him nervous) where he was trying to pinpoint out the germanophobic nature of her question that implied that "German equals Nazi" and how her question hurt/insulted his Jewish background and faith his parents raised him in, his denunciation of the holocaust in his Europa film, and his interest that he had years before knowing the truth about his biological father. A reply which reporters/artists didn't understand, or knew but did not want to admit, or heard but instead wrote/stated the opposite in complete bad faith to up their sales and images like the Rita Skeeters they behaved that day. A situation that infuriated people in the public I spoke with and other fans like me as we saw the conference on Cannes's website, on YouTube, and clearly reported on blogs and other websites detailing the affair; condemning the reporter for what had happened that day as Melancholia's conference was going well before her confrontational intervention-question, had none of the lousy atmosphere Lars suffered in other Cannes years (ie: Antichrist), and that her sudden question as the second-to-last reporter didn't allow a proper comeback for what had just happened. Ending the conference on a sour note that made fans and people in the public I spoke with (ex: Film Institute employees, University students, shop employees, etc.) think that Cannes should have sacked "her" and not Lars and that the moderator should have intervened and confronted the reporter over her statement and its racist insinuations; ordering her to either specify what she wants, or retract, or reformulate, or pass the mike to someone who has something intelligent to ask. In short, the large majority of the Public and of the Web demonstrated a sympathy and defensive support towards Lars which must have infuriated Kate Muir as she wrote in September 30 2011 a headmistress editorial subtly entitled "Stop indulging Lars von Trier and his grotesque stunts" that proved she did not expect that reaction-and-devotion for Lars from the public and his fans. Although it reveals the cunning/spiteful/two-faced nature she revealed in her articles and which contrasted with her behaviour at Cannes where she had asked her question with a candid and over-kindness/gallantry that I had instantly recognized as phony because it wasn't natural and honest, making me therefore not trust that journalist at all and extremely suspicious of her as she spoke. Not only that, a friend felt that the reporter's behaviour at Cannes made that woman, along with her racist question, more dumb than intelligent as she described Kate Muir as a "C-four-letters-curse-word" that I will not write, but which I quite agree with. Again everything that I just mentioned in this paragraph is an opinion of mine on this whole incident that had an impact on Lars's filmography like the movie Nymphomaniac, but it is an opinion which many family members, co-workers, friends, shop employees, and people I met on the street strongly believe and share with me. In conclusion, this scandal is an event that pinpoints to the kind of prejudice Lars mentions in Epidemic, which he would end up being a victim of, as his movie forewarns that even decades after the end of the War and in the 21st century, there will still be people who think all Germans and those with German blood are Nazis.
As for the technical aspects of this film, Lars is again a master at work. Strong black-and-white as in Night of the Living Dead, delicious lighting, well induced sound effects, and soundtracks with Tanhausser's overture, the movie's machine is perfect. Nothing to reproach at. Nothing clunky for our eyes and ears.
However the restraint in some of the performances makes the film a bit more difficult to appreciate it. Indeed, Lars and Niels sometimes are very timid in their way of acting out their scenes. Though of course, that restraint might be to make their performances more real rather than theatrical, the way the movie presents their feelings makes it a bit more colder than necessary. And of the cast members that do release that energy, Udo Kier and the medium's wife add pain and sadness. Emotions that enrich this film some might find too cold for the dramatic tension in this film. But which the climax explodes toward us.
As for the sound, it is in mono and the definition is, even though not in HD, very enjoyable on a HD TV screen. In particular for a large one.
In the end, this movie is, although better than Element of Crime, still more restrained than necessary and I think that it could have had more humanity in the story. Nevertheless, a fine rendition in Lars's filmography that displays future elements in Lars's works. Which are Hand-held cameras, Wagner soundtracks, the Kingdom hospital, and an apocalypse, and main characters that are self-portrayals of him. Like how Madame Bovary is Gustave Flaubert.

Europa (4/5)
"If the scars of this war are to heal, then we must turn to one another." - Max Hartmann
Ultimate part of his European Trilogy, "Europa" is quite a work of art to look at. Indeed, with German expressionism, Nazi Aesthetic, Film Noir, and Hitchcockian references all melded together, "Europa" is the story of Leopold Kessler, an American who comes in Germany to work on the train Zentropa where his uncle works as Sleeping car Conductor. Hoping to help the fallen Germany while staying in a Neutral political position over the reality he lives in. An opinion that harms him for the worse as he encounters the path of the Hartmann family. Family whose name is in reference to Lars's biological father, Fritz Michael Hartmann. A man who never recognized Lars as his biological father and never had any influences in Lars's life and tastes. A man Lars uncovered the secret truth only when his mother Bente Host told him the existence on her deathbed that this man was his real father. Therefore, making a movie one of the first works where Lars dives in part of himself into his work, which he didn't do in Element of Crime or in Epidemic.
But also, this movie is a tragedy which condemns the taboos of World War II and its post-War period. The culture of silence, of lies, of collaboration, of despair, and of germanophobia that still plague Europe today. Whether from the Germans or the Americans. A movie whose opinion is that in the upcoming future of Europe, World War II will leave a deep scar over the world.
Also, it is a movie of visual and musical references that made Europa one of the most well-received among film critics. Which is understandable as many cinema references populate this film what unfortunately, lacks emotionality and human connection with the characters and with the audience. Making the movie hard to connect with as the technical wizardry of retro-projections, black-and-whites, and color film stocks turn Europa into "a block of ice" as Lars himself told Stellan Skarsgaard. A work so controlled in its presentation and control of its actors that there are no chances for mistakes that make the story more real. More human which is what Cocteau did with "Beauty and the Beast".
However, Europa has the merit of bringing out a talent that Lars would continue in his future films. Strong, determined, and brave female characters. Nothing to do with the sexist archetypes of American TV soap Operas where women think over Prince charming stereotypes and weddings that soon end up in divorces at the end of the season. Instead, Lars's women are strong invididuals with personal agendas and goals; in complete control of their lives and interests. One that Barbara Sukowa plays very well. As much as Udo Kier played her brother Lawrence, and Jean-Marc Barr for the role of Leopold Kessler.
Of the special features in this DVD, which I wish they could release in Blu-Ray, "Europa" offers a Danish commentary with Lars von Trier talking in a very pleasant and not pretentious way with his producer Peter Allbaek Jensen, another interview over the European Trilogy and its hypnotic thematic that, among others, unites the three films. And also a bonus feature where Lars's collaborators defend him as a very nice and kind human being who does movies that unfortunately upset pretentious and obnoxious people. Which I noticed straight away when Lars had his Antichrist Press Conference, first time I ever saw a public interaction with Lars von Trier, and was shocked to see him treated with violence by the reporter from the Daily Mail; one of the most trashiest and filthiest British Newspaper that pollutes the crassest common denominator of the world. Making me therefore realize that the attacks on Lars come from the twisted minds of biased reporters and Lars's replies are just his chance for him to slap back at the stupidity of their questionning. And that a film venue, for all its glamour and poshiness as the Elite of Film Festivals, harbors such idiotic Reporters makes you realize how toxic Cannes's Festival is. With people asking questions of which they already know the answer and treating Lars like they did since his first arrival with "Element of Crime". As a weirdo, a prankster, a fraud, and a manipulator. Though that latter definition would take bigger proportions with Breaking the Waves and Dancer in The Dark as they would start calling him other names like Misogynist.
As a whole, Europa made him receive the technical prize and the Jury's prize, award that would make him call Roman Polanski, head jury of that Festival, as "The Midget"; in nod to his role in ChinaTown. Both in irony and in anger at not receiving the Golden Palm. A calling that I find well deserved; a lack of recognition that however maybe was for the better as had it not been for that, maybe Lars wouldn't have tried to push himself away from all his technical wizardry of his European trilogy and start what he would do next.
Movies centered around himself, his emotions, and his view of the world. Bovarist fables where he would display women as main characters.
Emotional work he would start doing with "The Kingdom", then his gorgeous and spectacular, and incomparable "Breaking the Waves".
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on 30 March 2009
Exactly what I expected, very good, bleak, dark, post war art films, impressive, evocative, draws out ones empathy, and leaves a hole, then fills it with awe.
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on 20 February 2012
This is a must-have for every von Trier fan. Containing his first three movies in superb quality, it also has hours of extras. This is the same product that has been released since 2005, but this 2011 release is NOT in a digipak case, but in a 4-disc keep case, two disc per side. While it would be nice to have it in digipak, it still is nice of Tartan to re-released this gem.
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on 1 October 2014
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on 8 May 2010
I like lars von trier other movies, antichrist, dancer in the dark, but these were poor. too much dialogue, and just plain boring. i would probably say epidemic was the better of the 3.
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