I am very suspicious of Trier. He is like Fassbinder in that he injects a (harrowing) passion into his work, and this commitment sort of turn his films into events instead of simple mere movies. When he takes the floor we listen because our curiosity’s been piqued. But he is not a filmmaker in the real sense of the term to me. His films are part essays on film, and part film (movie) in the sense of story construction and presentation. The former overpowers the latter and we end up with palpable statements instead of sweet flimsy shapes of feeling that we want to carry within us and keep forever.
His musical film is less about the magic of musicals than a Bergmanesque annotation of that magic and its place in our filmic mind. It is competent, intelligent stuff. But there is no space for us, from the first frame you know there is an agenda that the story will follow, and friends, there is no magic in that.
But don’t cross him off your list. Here is a man who desperately wants to be heard. When that happens, you know to not take him too seriously. You will then find that he has some interesting insights, and that if anything, his commentaries can be amusing. It is not all particularly enriching, but it is not dumb, his struggles mirror ours in the understading of what works or what doesn’t.
A problem in storytelling is how to bring the audience closer to the story, not only as viewer, but as participator, and the holy grail: as creator. A solution for this problem springs from an assumption that the viewer has some idea as to the nature of story construction. We walk into a theater knowing that someone has involved himself in the set of mechanics that create ‘story’ in order to present us with what we see. So when we have a story about the telling of a story and particularly about the mechanics of that telling, the distance between what we are seeing, and how it is that we have managed to be there and see it, is blurred. We do know that we are watching a film, but we also know that the action taking place mirrors the action of its making. Trier does it here, but not primarily to make the story more engaging. Simply out of caprice of wanting to be heard. He even puts himself in the film to annotate this, referring to the construction of what we’re watching. And he talks to us directly, from where? From outside the office space where the action is taking place. He is watcher/creator, and we are watchers/participators. It makes for a slightly stimulating viewing experience, it is pleasant to feel like we’re in on a joke that is simultaneously unfolding.
And like every other artist (or those who consider themselves artists), there is something he wants to say about human nature. But don’t be fooled, that’s uninteresting here, which is something I’ve come to expect from Trier.
Now if he only could take the best from his methods of framing, get rid of all the revealed wiring, and weave to it a wonderful and charming (I would settle for) simple story. He understands something about embarassment. I hope that what we have here is a step in that more serious direction.