IMAGES OF A RELIEF
Written and directed by Lars von Trier. Produced by Per Årman. Photographed by Tom Elling. Edited by Tómas Gislason. Costume Design by Manon Rasmussen. Original Music by Pierre de la Rue. Principal cast: Edward Fleming and Kirsten Olesen.
From Lars von Trier by Jack Stevenson (British Film Institute: London, 2002):
Von Trier’s final Film School production, Befrielsesbilleder (Images of a Relief), shot in 1982, was his graduate project and was not a film audiences would laugh at….
The film, shot in 35 mm and running almost feature-length fifty-seven minutes-highly unusual for a Film School production-was set in the chaotic final days of World War II, shortly after Denmark was liberated on May 4, 1945. To the film von Trier added previously unseen documentary footage of violent street scenes that transpired in Copenhagen in the wake of liberation. We see incidents of brutality and humiliation as citizens beat up stool pigeons and suspected collaborators. He managed to purloin this material from the archives of Danmarks Radio. (‘If it happened, it should also be shown,’ was his motto.)…
Von Trier later claimed that many viewers fainted during the 18 June screening at the Film School, “because,” as he put it, “I quite on purpose gave no release for the excitement which had been built up. … I purposely increased the excitement by setting the characters in extreme situations.”
To make a film set during World War II was in and of itself nothing special-there were many Danish films set in this period. But to show sympathy (as many saw it) for a Nazi officer seemed odd, not least in light of his parents’ experiences during the War. He knew full well that the film would provoke discomfort in audiences who found themselves in sympathy with the German officer, but he rejected charges that the film had a fascistic viewpoint: “I have not taken the side of the German officer because he is a Nazi but because he is the loser. … I permit myself to be fascinated by that which has always fascinated people, among other things, death. War is always a good subject.” As he elaborated in the film’s press release, “Precisely that form of moralizing that says, “now we must not let ourselves be fascinated by the War, etc.,” I believe is a prison. One must not lay limitations.”…
Images of a Relief was again accepted by the European Film School Festival in Munich in November of 1982. It aroused heated debate among the Festival’s jury members. Opinion on it ran to extremes: some wanted it thrown out of the Festival and others wanted to give it first prize. The pro camp eventually carried the day and von Trier won the Festival’s ‘special award’ which was sponsored by Channel 4 Television, guaranteeing it broadcast in Britain. And it got the previously mentioned theatrical opening at the Delta Bio in Copenhagen on June 30, 1982-the first time a Film School graduate project had been given commercial exposure. Later it was also bought and broadcast by Danish TV.
With the opening at Delta Bio, von Trier got his first reviews and they were decidedly mixed. Many critics praised the film’s visual power and technical polish. ‘A nightmare vision which seeks beauty in defeat and decay and expresses itself with visual poetry,’ went a typical review. Yet many found his message and motivation impossible to decipher amidst ‘the abundance of at once obtrusive yet completely hermetically sealed symbolism’, as Berlingske Tidende (B.T.) critic, Ebbe Iversen, phrased it. Von Trier was not the slightest bit interested in narrative clarity, he continued, and his messages were fuzzily conveyed. He concluded that the film showed that he could make spooky, surrealistic and extremely expressive pictures, which, when taken one by one had a kind of magical, possessed intensity, but when run in sequence become almost unbearably pretentious.
The film contained precious little dialogue or action. Single scenes went on interminably-actors seemed little more than props in the carefully composed visual set pieces. Pictures were to be sensed and indulged in , not just looked at. Pure atmosphere. Aestheticism for aestheticism’s sake….
With this film, von Trier had established himself as the Film School’s most promising student, or at least the one getting most attention. He was already being hailed by some as a genius, the future hope of Danish cinema and a provocateur supreme. A genius he would still have to prove himself, but a provocateur he undeniably was, taking, in one of the very first interviews with him (headlined ‘Danish Film Is Totally Harmless’), the opportunity to slam the current state of Danish cinema.
It’s so dainty in style that no one could ever be offended by it. They are harmless stories in a harmless style. Only topics which everyone can agree on are taken up. Like, for example, Gummi Tarzan. “Ah… that’s a shame for the boy” we all say in unison. That is precisely the kind of preconditioned reaction I will go against.
[…] His own favorite themes ran to a darker shade: S&M, child-abuse, autopsy trivia, mass-suicide, eyes being gouged out, and a Nazi officer cast as a Christ-like figure in a supernatural redemption scene. He would say early in his career that ‘a film should be like a stone in one’s shoe’. A stone indeed. At this point he was very much the typical young rebel looking to make life uncomfortable for his elders. The extreme subject matter he favored was born from a desire to examine all the things that had been posted ‘off limits’ by bourgeois society, as well as to simply provoke and get a physical reaction from viewers. He saw the investigation of taboos as a sign of health, not of a sick mind.
633MB | 51m 57s | 698×576 | avi