shadows features Zombies, Handguns and Barry Lyndon
Chatting with Dear Wendyís writer Lars Von Trier and director Thomas Vinterberg ē page 1 of 1
B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
dear wendy Where did the idea for Dear Wendy come from?
Lars Von Trier:
I canít remember, maybe because I psychologically passed the project to Thomas.
Thomas Vinterberg:
Initially it wasnít the story which fascinated me as much as the idea of directing something Lars had written. We had so much fun working or playing together before. Our way of working is very different, but that was an inspiring thought. When I then read it, a number of things about it really appealed to me. Making a group portrait about such a crazy project, this experiment, was extremely inspiring. It has all these great aspects of social behaviour, which interest me as a director, and I understood why Lars felt that I could add to this project.
Von Trier:
I had written the film for myself, but it was important for me that it had a realistic tone otherwise it wouldnít be dangerous. So I asked Thomas to do it, he could add these absurdities of realism. He is very clever in that respect and he is great with details.
We have fundamentally different approaches to filmmaking. I start with a certain characteristic, a tension between two people, and then slowly find my way to a story. Lars does it the other way around.
Von Trier:
I really start with the music. I have these things that I save up, and the Zombies was one of them - their sound and the emotions it brings out. I didnít listen to them when they initially came out, but I have for years now. You canít see it in the film, but at one point the script was literally build around the songs.

Did that mean Thomas had to use the Zombies in the film?
No, and at first I didnít want to either. But I came to see the things in the script as rules, building blocks for the film we were making. It is a typical example of the difference between us, because my jumping-off point would be what works on a emotional level, while Lars builds a whole sequence around what is said, the exact words. My way is more intuitive and less mathematical. That might mean something gets lost.
Von Trier:
And properly a lot has been won.
What was so fun about this experiment was that the script was so tight and well put-together. It could bear to be challenged.
Von Trier:
It could use being broken.
Perhaps it needed that.
Von Trier:
I would say that it needed to get some life.
It is better you say that than me, but I think it needed a less logical even irrational life. But it did take me some time to get the same fascination with the Zombies as Lars had, which I felt I needed to have. I had to have a desire to use it in the film. Von Trier: But you have that now, donít you?
Hell yeah, I think they are super cool.

Did you ever consider changing other things in the script before making it, like the ironic voice-over, which is reminiscent of the one in Dogville, which again is inspired by Barry Lyndon?
It is part of the filmís identity, and I really like this kind of voice-over. But I also saw it as my greatest enemy or challenge, because it goes against the filmmaking, I am ambassador for. What is dangerous about a voice-over is that it can lift you out of the story instead of hold you to the emotions on display. But I really liked it here. I see the guy in the film as Lars, so it is great that the guy talks with Larsí voice so to speak. But we did several things which took him away from Lars again. One was to make the main character 12 years younger, the other was getting Jamie Bell. That is what happens when you hire an actor, this new person completely changes your conception of the character by the way they look and speak.
Von Trier:
Making him younger was a great idea. I supported that from the start.
The thing we spend the most time and properly money on was the casting of the film. We knew we had to get the exact right group together to pull this off.
Von Trier:
I think that works extremely well.
Yes, they were really great. We had a lot of very great talents who were interested in doing it, but I think, Dick was the most vulnerable. His character manipulates a lot of people and ultimately creates a quite horrible thing around him, but he is just this young boy. I had to talk a lot with Jamie about his character, to give him an emotional anchor. To explain why he starts talking to a gun and things like that.
Von Trier:
I never understood why you had a problem with that.
No, that is because it is something you have decided, that is the way you are - hereís a guy whoís in love with a gun. I canít just accept that and work with that. So we needed to find explanations for it, talked about loneliness, escapism things like that. It is too banal to say in the film, but it gave us an emotional sounding board.
Von Trier:
I love that way of storytelling, properly because we were told at Film School never to do that. My first film was only a voice-over. In reality, I think, I have some literary ambitions I can live out by writing these long stories. It gives you the opportunity to explain a lot, which you would have to spend a lot of screen time on if you didnít explain it that way - analysis and suggestions as to how one might understand something as well. I was mad about Barry Lyndon, and especially the voice-over and I have tried to mimic its tone, because it suits me very well. This sarcastic tone is also very dominant in Manderlay.

Have you had any experience with handguns before you wrote and directed Dear Wendy?
Von Trier:
I didnít try to hold a real handgun until I was at the Film School. We werenít allowed to make films with guns there, so thatís what I did. I have never actually fired one for real, but I have shot with rifle and shotgun quite a lot.
I tried my first gun at Film School too, they might not fire for real, but they still have quite a kick. I tried hunting once with a shotgun, but I didnít hit anything. There was a bird right over my head, but I had forgotten to take the safety off, so I didnít get it. I felt the rush, but I never managed to kill anything. I grew up in a commune and didnít even have a toy gun. But I took the actors to a shooting range in preparation for this film, and we tried to shoot different types of handguns and I also tried an AK47. It was quite wild. Thereís a thrill in firing a gun. It is almost a dependency.
Von Trier:
A dependency?
When I had tried that rifle I felt that I wanted to do it again, but that has faded again. It didnít last very long.
Von Trier:
Almost no matter what you delve into, you are bound to find some kind of beauty in it. The beauty in the detail, the moral side is something else. And when you hang around people who are interested in guns, you hear all these expressions, stopping power and things like that. It is really a fetish. When you look around the internet, you come across a thousand websites dedicated to this, where people have written poems to their guns and derailed things like that.
I have learned a hell of a lot about handguns, and Lars is right when he says that it is an amazing instrument, which it can be fascinating to study. But there is a clear definition between that and what it is used for. Where I grew up weapons was a symbol of something bad, but it is just a thing, which you can use right or wrong.



Jamie Bell stars as Dick, the leader of the Dandies, in Dear Wendy
vontrier vinterberg
(as director)
Manderlay (2005)
The Five Obstructions (2003)
Dogville (2003)
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
The Idiots (1998)
Breaking the Waves (1996)
Europa (1991)
Epidemic (1988)
The Element of Crime (1984)
Image of Relief (1982)
The Last Detail (1981)
Nocturne (1980)
Menthe - la bienheureuse (1979)
The Orchid Gardener (1977)
Dear Wendy (2005) It's All About Love (2003)
The Third Lie (2000)
Festen (1998)
The Biggest Heroes (1996)
The Boy Who Walked Backwards (1994)
Last Round (1993)
Sneblind (1990)
See also Dogme 95:

shadows on the wall

© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall