Dir.Jacob Thuesen. Denmark . 2007. 91 min.
Lars von Trier's revenge on the Danish film industry is a very funny inside joke. A not-so-fond evisceration of film school, filmmakers, actors (more precisely oversexed Danish actresses), technicians, guilds and unions, the picaresque film follows its eponymous hero through a circus of cinema-related escapades.
While knowledge of the von Trier oeuvre and the Danish film industry is preferred but not essential, the film will struggle to capture any more than a niche market. Von Trier wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym of his cinematic doppelganger, and he doesn't spare his younger self from the same unflattering observations he dishes out to others. Erik may be an idiot but he certainly can write a wryly observant screenplay.
Nevertheless, the film is easily von Trier's most accessible work as a screenwriter, if not as a director, and it should gain enough word-of-mouth to coax back those who have neglected his recent efforts. The easy touch of Jacob Thuesen must take a lot of the credit. Thuesen is a long-time von Trier collaborator (he edited von Trier's TV series The Kingdom) with several feature credits to his name.
The cinematography and period art direction are first-class while the tone is reminiscent of early Woody Allen, in particular the self-important commentators of Take The Money And Run, and also the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest. For the director's Danish filmmaking contemporaries the sensation may be more akin to the lash, especially since they will recognise von Trier's voice as the narrator.
It is the late 1970s. Young Erik Nietzsche (Spang) shares a surname with the German philosopher, but the similarities end there. Erik is no Ubermensch but rather an idiot, and blissfully so. His greatest aspiration is to make a film about leaves. Oak leaves, birch leaves, leaves of any kind.
The director of the Danish National Film School watches four seconds of Erik's film submission before calling for the next. Although the rubber stamp of rejection has already been inked on Eric's application form, the director subsequently engages in vigorous sex with the office secretary on his desktop, scattering documents and resulting in a mix-up of the application forms. Erik gets in.
Such is the story of Erik's life. His best ideas are exquisitely dreadful - for his first short film, he adapts something he calls Leaves of the Decameron, next he tries De Sade - and yet somehow the world yields to his inexorable life force. He may be an idiot, but he is surrounded by even greater idiots, all of whom think they are geniuses. His fellow students can be divided into five groups: the men are either tyrants or geeks, the women are strident feminists or nymphomaniacs, or both. His instructors are poseurs of the highest order.
The satire builds smartly from easy targets to the universality of the 'Peter Principle', a rule of hierarchy whereby an employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. Erik accidentally joins a guild and then effortlessly forces the head of the Danish Film Institute to resign.
By the end of the film, Erik learns the German word schadenfreude, and is then ready to join his filmmaking peers in the ranks of the self-absorbed.
Zentropa Entertainment (Den)
Trust Film Sales (Den)
Sisse Graum Jorgensen
Lars von Trier (as Erik Nietzsche)
Carl Martin Noren
Line Bie Rosenstjerne