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

Koutsourakis, Angelos (2011) 'A film should be like a stone in your shoe': a Brechtian reading of Lars von Trier. Doctoral thesis (DPhil), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

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.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion pictures
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 21 Dec 2011 09:34
Last Modified: 21 Aug 2015 13:58
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/7458

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