Director Of Von Trier's Gesamt Says U.S Entries Express 'Overwhelming Sense Of Estrangement And Anger'

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Filmmaker Jenle Hallund has looked into the soul of America, and it sounds like we need a good shrink.

Hallund is the intrepid soul who has spent the last weeks watching and, in some cases, listening to the 501 submissions that have come across her desk after controversy-courting Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier invited the world to reinterpret one of six great works of art for a community film project that will be unveiled at the Copenhagen Art Festival on Oct. 12.

Participants had to base their entries on one or more of six different works of art that Von Trier admires:  James Joyce's Ulysses, "which once was banned in the United States because it was seen as obscene and lewd"; August Strindberg’s play The Father, "which still stands as a striking example of a dysfunctional family"; Paul Gaugin's painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? French composer César Franck’s improvisations; or the music of the late Sammy Davis Jr., "who stepped himself into the hearts of people through song;"  and the Zeppelin Field grandstand in Nuremberg, Germany that Hitler's main architect Albert Speer created.

The project is being called Gesamt, which translates to "coming together" or "a joint piece of work," as Hallund explained to us back in August, and the filmmaker, who is a script consultant on Von Trier's 2013 project, Nymphomaniac, as well as co-director of Limboland (2010), is now in the process of culling, editing and shaping those submissions into a film that she says will be called Disaster 501 — What Happened to Man?  based on her interpretation and understanding of the material she received.

"I think why I decided early on to make it a disaster movie was that most of the submission questioned the fundamentals of our humanity: love, morality and relationships," Hallund wrote in email correspondence with me. "And nature was depicted as decaying and threatening."

But Hallund explained that now that she is "further in the editing process," she has worked with "beautiful and tender moments and stunning visuals.  The ache for the sublime and the ideal is still the dream for us," Hallund noted, adding:  "The most touching element for me is that all of these submissions, all of these people who bravely shared a piece of themselves all take part in creating the painting of the soul of our civilization."

Given this site's U.S. roots, I asked Hallund what the American entries she received said about the soul of its civilizaton.

"The American soul speaks and shouts fear and loneliness, and an overwhelming sense of estrangement and anger — of being disconnected from others and losing purpose and individuality," Hallund wrote.  "The soul of America expresses  a rootlessness and a loss of humanity."  And yet, she explained, "A tender but cutting longing for love and meaning," is  also evident.

Hallund, who received approximately 55 submissions from the U.S. and will use "visuals, stills, sound or music" from 10 to 12, said that, "overwhelmingly," the themes of the American submissions "can be categorized into male and female."

"All the male submissions, regardless of which works of art they reference, are angry, desperate — full of malice and a sense of fear," Hallund said. "The men address, either verbally or visually, a sense of being trapped inside their skin, of taking pleasure in hurting women.  They are very animalistic and afraid . We have the broken and humiliated man who can no longer walk or love.

"The female American soul," she continued, "is without love — almost resigned to the loss of it. The female voice is very tender and soft. They speak of the love of their fathers, the sadness of the pain they have caused, and their longing for a man to love them." Or, she said, "it's the voice of a woman lost and afraid of disappearing....Fighting to assert control over her sexuality."

"Depressing stuff, I know," said Hallund. But fascinating as well. I asked the filmmaker if traveling to Copenhagen next month is the only way that Americans can see Disaster 501, and she replied that she is exploring options to put it online. "I haven't found the right solution yet," she said.

If she can turn 501 submissions of film, music and writing into a single film, she can do anything.

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