Lars von Trier (Zentropa, Breaking the Waves) is probably the cruelest major film director to emerge since R.W. Fassbinder, the German Wunderkind of the 1970s. Just as Fassbinder's women, gays, transsexuals, and cuckolds shed their bitter tears and were laughed at by the rest of the world, von Trier's protagonists martyr themselves for love and reap no reward for it (at least in this world). Like Fassbinder and another "cruel" filmmaker von Trier is often compared to, David Lynch, von Trier has experimented with long-form narrative on television. Indeed, The Kingdom, a four-part Danish miniseries, was billed as "Twin Peaks in a hospital" in its first screenings here, not at all misleadingly. As in Lynch's series, metaphysics are overlaid on soap opera, there are frequent injections of absurd humor, and the whole thing is built around the drama of a tortured child -- in this case the ghost of a child whose cries echo through a hospital for those who will hear. And as in both the final episodes of Twin Peaks and Fassbinder's great miniseries Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), von Trier's drama builds to a surreal finale that will leave you exiting the theater stunned, depressed, and anxious for more -- kinda like the masochists who inhabit von Trier's other films. The director has promised a continuation of this "horror hospital" epic in the near future; in the meantime, his TV experience has clearly loosened him up. Prior to The Kingdom every frame of his works was meticulously composed and lit, but Waves follows The Kingdom in being shot with a hand-held camera and then color-bleached in post-production; the results work for the story even as they induce motion sickness.
All four hours of The Kingdom screen Sunday, Jan. 26, at 1 and 6:30 p.m. at the UC Theater, Shattuck & University in Berkeley. Tickets are $6.50; call (510) 843-6267.
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