Von Trier on Manderlay

Cannes Film Fest 2005–“Manderlay,” the second segment of Lars von Trier's trilogy that began with “Dogville,” played in competition in the Festival de Cannes, in May 2004.

Nicole Kidman Dropping Out

The character of Grace is played by whoever plays her. The script was written for Nicole Kidman, so when it turned out not to be her, the character had to change according to the new actress, Bryce Dallas Howard. I think it's great fun that she is so young, because it makes the stubbornness in the character more probable. And also her very nave approach to things; though, of course, naivet is something all my heroines have always possessed.

Wearing the Same Dress

Though the actresses are not the same, it's the same Grace, that's why Bryce and Nicole wear the same dress. Her Gestalt is just different. It is another Gestalting of the same Grace.

Grace's Active Personality

Grace in “Dogville” noted everything, and didn't intervene until the end, whereas Grace of Manderlay is more active. I can see the development from the Grace of the first film to this Grace. My idea was that it would be a developmental trilogy centered on Grace's character. At the end of “Dogville,” she comes into a bit of power, and she predicts that she will use it for making the world a better place.

Does Grace Do it in “Manderlay”

No. None of my characters have ever made anything better. But she tries, and I think she believes in it. Her heart is in it.

Grace Standing in for George W. Bush

The comparison is clear. For Bush, if democracy doesn't come quickly enough, it must be put there by force. You can say a lot of nasty things about Bush, but don't you think his heart is in it, and he believes in what he is doing. Why would Bush trick us It's because he thinks things will improve this way. There's no doubt about it. He believes in it, and Grace does too.

Messages in “Manderlay”

It's the same story all over again. But what's funny, or alien, to me in “Manderlay” is that the film involves other races, which I think is fun. In Denmark, we tell ourselves we have never had a race problem, but then there were no black people in Denmark when I was a kid. They were practically non-existent apart from the odd jazz musicians. Since then, however, racism has reared its ugly face, so in that way, “Manderlay” is also about things in Denmark.

The Plot

The plot is based on two things. On a preface written by a French writer for “The Story of O,” about some liberated slaves who were starving and wanted their master back, because at least then they had something to eat. And when he refused, they killed him. This cheerful little tale fascinated me. The film was also inspired by Jacob Holdt's photos and lectures about the U.S.

Urge to Instruct Audiences

I don't know. You can call it a moral comedy, certainly. But at the same time, I hope it is ambiguous, especially the ending. I can always cover myself by being ambiguous.

Lack of Heroes

Unless you say Mam is. She comes close to being a heroine in the end. Grace ought to be one, but she spoils everything around her by being too stupid and too idealistic and emotional. What she lacks is political pragmatism. You shouldn't be like that in politics, because if you are, you don't get anywhere.

Being Emotional in Real Life

If you're too emotional in real life, you don't get anywhere, either. You just don't.

The Necessity of Being Cynical

You have to be cynical. That's the point if you're a thinking human being. You have to have a degree of cynicism, or you won't survive. I am in all kinds of angst therapy at the moment, and the idea is that what much of the brain does initially is to filter sensory impressions because they don't matter to us.

Raising the Bar in Film After Film

Don't forget that I always get over the bar one way or another. If not, I get under it. I always have excuses for doing things precisely the way I do them. And also, this time, I was the one who decided just how high the bar should be.

Nicole Kidman Vs. Bryce Dallas Howard

Nicole gave me the response inherent in experience. Bryce doesn't have that experience yet. But I've tried both things previously. I worked with Emily Watson, who was new to the job. It is pleasant if you don't receive a response the way you do from someone with experience. You have to see if you can generate it for yourself, so you can get the job done anyway.