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'A film should be like a stone in your shoe': a Brechtian reading of Lars von Trier

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:15 authored by Angelos Koutsourakis
This central premise of this thesis is that Lars von Trier is a political director. Through a detailed formal analysis of five films I proceed to discuss the political implications of form, something that has not been acknowledged by scholarship so far. In this thesis, I employ Brecht as a methodological tool so as to discuss the shift from a dialectical cinema devoted to the production of knowledge effects, to a post-Brechtian one that brings together points of tension that remain unresolved. Chapter 1 proceeds to a historical evaluation of Brecht’s reception in film theory and considers the ways that Brecht’s theory and practice can address the cinematic and political concerns of the present. The chapter also locates von Trier under the rubric of the post-Brechtian by comparing him to past film practices. Chapter 2 moves to a discussion of von Trier’s Europa trilogy and focuses on issues of historical representation. Emphasis is placed on formal elements that challenge the narrative laws of classical cinema. The chapter argues that von Trier follows Brecht’s mistrust of a historical representation based on pictorial verisimilitude, without however sharing his forward-looking politics and his view of history as Marxist science. Chapter 3 discusses Dogme 95 and The Idiots (1998). Firstly, the chapter discusses Dogme’s combination of a political modernist rhetoric with a realist one and places Dogme’s return to the past in a historical context. Secondly, the chapter considers the role of performance as a formal and thematic element in The Idiots. I draw attention to the ways that the camera becomes performative and brings together material of dramaturgical importance with moments that are the product of cinematic contingency. My discussion is very much informed by contemporary post-Brechtian performance and film studies invested in the discussion of ‘corporeal cinema’. Chapter 4 discusses Dogville, a film with obvious references to Brecht. Unlike previous readings, I shift the emphasis from the film’s assumed ‘Anti-Americanism’ and proceed to a formal analysis that can rethink the film’s politics and innovations. While Brecht has been thought to be as a fleeting presence in von Trier’s films by most critics, this thesis suggests that our knowledge of von Trier’s formal innovations can be deepened and enlivened by discussing them in conjunction with Brecht’s theory. By returning to Brecht, we can also rethink the importance of form as the key to a film’s politics.


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