Epidemic (1987) is my favourite Lars Von Trier film; that doesn’t mean to say it’s his best or anything like that; but it at least abides by my first rule of auteurism: if the auteur is in a starring role in the film, the genius always flows. The most superb charm of this film is the acting relationship between Lars and Niels Vorstel, his co-writer for this, and also for ELEMENT OF CRIME and KINGDOM.
The opening joke of the film is one of the funniest jokes about cinema out there in all of jokes-about-cinema-in-cinema jokes land; and EPIDEMIC also wins as being maybe the best and most accesible example of film-deconstruction-within-film that has been made.
As Cocteau was the fountain of all inspiration for Godard, Godard went on to make many deconstructed products; and while they are funny (where they are meant to be) they are also essays in every single aspect, and uniquely, and uniformly, all Godard’s films were constructed as deconstructed. They’re all great and I have no problem with any of them, but they never break down, are not anarchic, and they make their points about cinema at the expense of drama.
EPIDEMIC is not only an overt film-essay-about-film but has incredible tension, incredible drama and dreams up some very funny situations – including the opening, which as I have already said is genius. There is fuck all barrier between real and unreal. On top of that, EPIDEIMC is supposed to be a horror and it pays off completely there also, with an autopsy witnessed by Lars; amazing; and a final scene that is truly horrific, worth waiting for, and exceeds any expectation in the amazing and suspenseful build up to it.
The last great laugh of the film is when Lars and Niels hand in their 12 scrappy pages, representing their 18 months work on this film; the producer is distraught and tries to explain to the two youth the precarious nature of filmmaking in Denmark and the good use of the limited public funds available to them; while Niels remarks about how he really only likes fresh truffles. A high point for deconstructionists is when Lars and Niels render the film’s timeline in an enjoyable daub on their apartment wall. It is immense, and so funny.
So you pick up the DVD case for EPIDEMIC and read the blurb and I bet it says: Writer Niels and filmmaker Lars write a film about a plague without a realising a real plague is taking over around and about them. But that won’t much cover it, even though it does describe a tiny aspect of what you see.
What you in fact see is a very funny and youthful mish mash. You get the brilliant Niels, whom you will love aftrer seeing this – for his energy, his enjoyment of life, and the jokes he comes up with; and although Trier likes making pretend films-within-films, and clever stuff like that, he is young too, and so much less of a freak with someone free spirited like Niels to riff with.
When you are aged around 30, you will likely be at your funniest and best, your quickest and best looking; and so Lars and Neils both come across in EPIDEMIC as heroes, immortalised forever on beautiful 16mm.
Udo Kier is one of two real life extras that star. In Keir’s case, his piece is the real film within a film; a short in its own right basically. In his segment Keir tells the story of an image his dying mother left with him; and regarding what I said about the barrier between real and unreal; scratch it. This is real, and don’t ask how you know that. But it is camera never time for Udo Kier; an Udo Kier documentary item in Lars and Neil’s brilliant EPIDEMIC; of which I have to say again, this is simply the best thing this director has ever done, and by quite a hefty margin too.