Second Time Around

Two by Lars von Trier
Two films by Lars von Trier, the sardonic, reputedly agoraphobic director of Breaking the Waves, play this week at area theaters, providing a neat warm-up for the R.W. Fassbinder retrospectives that will dominate next month's rep offerings. Von Trier's cruelly humorous films provide the nearest equivalents we have these days to Fassbinder's doomy wit. Like the late German genius, von Trier pulls consistently amazing work from his actors -- in last year's Breaking the Waves Emily Watson vents an incredible performance as a madly devoted wife. Von Trier further pays his debt to Fassbinder by casting Barbara Sukowa (Lola), and Eddie Constantine (The Third Generation) in Zentropa, a film built up around Fassbinder's frequent theme of persistent Nazified corruption in this black comedy about an inept American soldier returned to postwar Germany. Jean-Marc Barr is Zentropa's hapless hero, while von Trier himself plays "the Jew," a survivor of the war pressured into officially de-Nazifying a leading industrialist -- one of many dubious moral moves in von Trier's canon. Zentropa is coldly formal and exact, with precisely timed experiments in rear-projected images, shifts in pigment, and the like. Breaking the Waves, by contrast, seasickens audiences with its huge mood swings in both camera and tone, the result of its having been shot in hand-held fashion, with the footage recolorized on video and then transferred to 35mm stock. Both films conclude by moving past absurdist tragedy and despair into oceanic transcendence. This man bears watching.

-- Gregg Rickman

Breaking the Waves screens Sunday, June 29, at 2, 5:15, and 8:30 p.m. at the Red Vic, 1727 Haight (at Clayton). Tickets are $6; call 668-3994. It also plays Saturday, June 28, at 3:15 and 8:30 p.m. (on a double bill with Zentropa at 1:05 and 6:20 p.m.) at the UC Theater, 2036 University (at Shattuck), in Berkeley. Tickets are $6.50; call (510) 843-6267.

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