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Epidemic | review | dvd | Lollipop


(Home Vision)
by Chad Van Wagner

Lars Von Trier is hot now. With Dogville and Dancer in the Dark cementing his reputation as a challenging, provocative director, his earlier works are finally seeing the light of day here in the States. This isn't necessarily a good thing.

Epidemic certainly sounds promising: The second of Von Trier's "Europa Trilogy," one would reasonably believe that it will be every bit as challenging, hallucinatory, psychedelic, and confounding as the other two films (The Element of Crime and Zentropa). But where Element and Zentropa play like Blade Runner-esque acid trips gone dreadfully wrong, Epidemic is the kind of pretentious claptrap that film instructors show to their classes to test their patience.

Instead of the Jungian nightmares of the other two films, Epidemic is a pseudo-documentary about two filmmakers (Von Trier and his real-life writing partner, Niels Vorsel) trying to make... Epidemic. Yes, it's a "fictional" film about itself.

Now, that may sound ridiculous. But surely Von Trier, a man whose debut (Element) was so spectacularly mature and atmospheric, can make this questionable premise work, right?

Not even close. Epidemic is even more pretentious and film-student clumsy than it sounds. It's impossible to shake the feeling that all you're watching is the result of a complete lack of inspiration, edited together behind a veil of "honesty" that is little more than a bluff. When the duo's producer calls them to task for turning in a script that's little more than a feeble attempt to satisfy a deadline, it's impossible not to agree with him.

Now, Von Trier is crafty (and talented) enough that you could argue that this is the point. By putting unorganized, slapdash film stock on the screen, you could be "making" a film that becomes more than the sum of its parts, one that finds its own coherence through its very existence. But there's more to a good film than satisfying good intentions, and a well-executed bad idea still remains a bad idea. Still don't believe me? The film's title is displayed throughout the entire running time. This is probably to "remind" you that you're watching a movie, but it comes off as a desperate attempt to get the viewer to watch the film as something other than what it is: Random crap. A rare misstep from one of the world's most intriguing directors.

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