Lars von Trier is a Danish avant-garde writer-director, born in 1956. A notorious proponent of Melodrama, his works are often considered to be heavily on the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. His films are often considered to have emotional pain and depression as their central themes, and just as often portray humankind as inherently evil creatures that are more than happy to exploit, torment and ultimately destroy the few kind and selfless individuals in the world. Do bear in mind that this is the popular stereotype of his work, and in fact his films have taken a variety of approaches, though a focus on Angst is frequently present.As a director, von Trier is well-known for his extensive use of Black Comedy, his weird ability to make actors perform way beyondtheir personal boundaries, and being one of the writers of the Dogme 95 Manifesto. He also has a tendency to group his films into Trilogies involving similar themes.The "von" in his name does not come from German nobility, but is in fact an in-jokish nickname von Trier had amongst his fellow students in film school. He ultimately decided to keep the nickname to pay homage to Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg, who also added their "von" later in life.His more shocking work is sometimes classified as Euroshlock.
Bizarrely, von Trier is the product of a Real Life example, as well. He was born to a pair of Communist Nudist parents — You read that right — and was raised in an environment where "Everything was permitted, except for Religion, Feelings, or Enjoyment," to use the man's words. The lack of rules his parents set for him caused him to go strongly in the opposite direction, sowing the seeds for the Control Freak he grew up to be. In addition, his Father used to routinely condemn "Golden Hearts" like Jesus Christ, eventually causing him to embrace Christianity in an act of rebellion (This also inspired the title of his second Trilogy, all of which involve self-sacrificting heroines). It's been said that Lars is one of the few filmmakers with a backstory as singular as his films.
Eagleland: A pretty strident Type #2. Negative reactions to his depiction of America in Dancer in the Dark inspired him to do a film that was EVEN MORE critical of America, Dogville, the first part of his "USA, Land of Opportunity" Trilogy.
And he's adamant about the fact that he'll never visit the USA, due to his fear of flying.
Melodrama: Part of his Signature Style. Has less to do with Soap Opera as with the works of Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg, both of whom inspired him to add the "von" to his surname.
Minimalism: Beginning with Breaking the Waves, von Trier began a process of paring his films down to their essentials. The Idiots and aforementioned Breaking the Waves began by eschewing Special Effects and slick photography and focusing on character and story instead. Dancer in the Dark continued the trend, while streamlining characterization and plotting to a level of simplicity reminiscent of the Silent Era. Dogville and Manderlay eliminated sets and most props, filming everything on a large soundstage with buildings marked by lines of chalk. And finally Antichrist brought it all down to only two actors engaged in a series of Mind Games, though it did make use of some CGI. Melancholia and Nymphomaniac bring things back to a level of sophistication not seen since Breaking the Waves, though the characters are still as broadly drawn as they've been since Dancer in the Dark. And almostuniformly unpleasant.
Missing Episode: Wasington [sic], the third film in The "USA, Land of Opportunity" Trilogy. von Trier's depression forced him to make Antichrist instead. Jury's out if he'll ever make it.
Oddball in the Series: The Boss of It All is a straightforward Workplace Comedy starring frequent collaborator Jens Albinus. Supposedly made at the outset of his depression as an attempt to regain his enthusiasm for filmmaking.
Stage Names: His birth name is the rather more generic "Lars Trier".
Supernatural Fiction: Appears both overtly (Riget) and subtly (Breaking the Waves, Melancholia) throughout his work, and often overlaps with Magic Realism. His only films to date to have no Supernatural or Paranormal elements whatsoever are The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville and Manderlay.
Trans Atlantic Equivalent: Odd as the comparison may sound, Lars is this to Joss Whedon. Both are visually distinctive Writer-Directors with an ear for dialogue and an ability with actors. Both have worked in the mediums of both Television and Film. And, most importantly, both are great big believers in Angst for Angst's Sake, in addition to being Trolling Creators that like to rub their fans' noses in all the misery.
Trilogy: Overlaps with Thematic Series. The "Europa" Trilogy deals with, yes, Europe, specifically its precarious sociopolitical position in the aftermath of WWII and the Cold War. The "Golden Hearts" Trilogy each features an innocent, purefemale protagonist pitted against insurmountable odds. The "USA, Land of Opportunity" Trilogy follows Grace, another Cutie continuously broken throughout a skewed, Minimalist America, and The "Depression" Trilogy stars Charlotte Gainsbourg and is about, well, guess.
Troll: His Hitler comments should be a good sign of this.