Epidemic (1987) Poster


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Lars Redeemed
SheBear3 February 2005
In Epidemic two story lines play out simultaneously with both reaching the same, inevitable conclusion. The first storyline is shot in documentary style and follows screenwriters Lars & Niels while they write a script called Epidemic. The second storyline is a lushly photographed production of the film that the characters are writing.

Epidemic is about the process of creation. The screenwriters begin as idealists - their vision is pure and remains so as long as the creation is contained. Once the creation/script/disease is introduced/unleashed to the world it becomes both an object to be corrupted as well as a force which corrupts.

It all ends, as any von Trier movie should, with a suffering woman and this one's a little heavy handed even by von Trier's standards. Gitte's hypnotically induced wig-out is an obvious foreshadowing of everyone's demise and although it is difficult to watch her deterioration she is quite a site to behold.

It is fitting that the most accurate and succinct description of a Lars von Trier film should come from the man himself and it is in Epidemic that he famously proclaims, "a film should be like a pebble in your shoe." And so it is.
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Dogma avant-la-lettre
Camera Obscura25 November 2006
EPIDEMIC (Lars von Trier - Demark 1987).

Von Trier's second feature reveals his obsessions with cinema, with his self-imposed limitations on film-making in many ways foreshadowing Von Trier's later obstructions upon Jorgen Leth in THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS (2003).

Essentially a film about his own obsessions, or a grand parody on horror, as some suggested. Von, Trier, frustrated by the delay of his never realized project, "The Grand Mal", about two gangster families in divided Berlin, made a bet with film consultant Claes Kastholm of the Danish Film Institute, claiming that he could make a feature film for one million Danish kroner. Resulting partly in an amateur movie about a film director and a scriptwriter who must write a new manuscript in five days, interspersed with scenes from the film they are working on - about a young idealistic doctor in the late 20th century, who tries to fight an epidemic, but only manages to spread it further. The film culminates with the outbreak of a deadly plague, not in the past but in the present. Throughout the film, Von Trier shows his fascination with Germany, for example, during a ride through the "Ruhrgebiet", the industrial core of Europe, or the world, at least during the '80s.

Camera Obscura --- 8/10
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This Hypnotic Abstraction is Truly Very Atmospheric and Creepy.
jzappa9 September 2009
Epidemic appears to be all stylistic self-indulgence. It is filmed in black and white, with often purposely redundant subtitles. Each shot is very very long. Some are stoic, some are suddenly goofy, some are disturbing, mostly stoic. When there is dialogue, it is intellectually stimulating, but borderline irrelevant.

Mainly, it is that director Lars Von Trier and his screenplay collaborator Niels Vorsel play themselves, coming up with a last-minute script for a producer. This strand takes disproportionate turns with scenes from their script, in which Von Trier plays a radical doctor attempting to cure a modern-day epidemic. In an warped turn, the doctor finds that he himself has been spreading it. For so long, one is left without a clue as to why there is such a coincidence between the screenplay and the outside world, or any progressions of the different narrative strands' signifying signs. But it infects you. It burns you.

Whether or not the film is narcissistic, it is not form over function. Essentially, it is a basic exercise in what metaphysically affects the viewer. Consider the scene of the darker, quieter of the screenwriters in the subway, knowing predeterminately that the other one is going to die. Or when he looks in a mirror, turns to us, the camera, then the mirror again. Everything one expects would create a cohesive, sense-making narrative film is inverted and indeed develops an immediately conscious connection between itself and the audience.

That is not to say it eschews any fundamental aspect of quality. Udo Kier delivers one of the most amazing, fantastic performances I have ever seen. Really, many of the performances, whoever these actors, or characters, are, shock and deeply move us. Some scenes are entirely made up of uproarious laughter or breakdowns of screaming, in spite of the unapologetic stoicism and quiet permeating the film.

This hypnotic abstraction is truly very atmospheric and creepy. It is a transcendental, almost physiologically affecting virus that infests you for days upon being subjected to it. It is something that has to be seen and can hardly be explained. And that makes it a true work of art.
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Deceptive, Messy, Boring, Annoying and Pretentious Movie with Disconnected Ideas
Claudio Carvalho3 March 2014
The screenwriters Lars and Niels are writing the screenplay of an outbreak like many other plagues in Europe. In the story, the renowned epidemiologist Dr. Mesmer decides to leave the Faculty of Medicine to go to the outskirt of the city to give assistance to the inhabitants. Soon, a mysterious disease is spread in the real world. Then the writers travel to Germany for a meeting and then they visit their producer, where they meet a hypnotized woman that is sick.

"Epidemic" is a deceptive, messy, boring, annoying and pretentious collection of disconnected ideas and senseless subplots by Lars von Trier with an awful grainy cinematography in black and white. I was tempted to stop the DVD, but unfortunately the box of the Trilogy of Lars von Trier was very expensive and I decided to watch until the irritating conclusion with a woman crying and screaming for a long period before committing suicide, increasing to my loss of money a complete loss of time. My vote is two.

Title (Brazil): "Epidemic"
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Self-aware political allegory... or private joke?
Graham Greene29 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
It's common knowledge that Epidemic began it's life as a bet between von Trier and the head of the Danish Film Institute, with the emphasis being that von Trier would be unable to make a film for under one-million kroner. Trier accepted the wager, and set about constructing a film that would move away from the rigid compositions and moody atmosphere of his first film, The Element Of Crime, whilst simultaneously advancing on it's themes of post-war devastation, optimism in the face of horror, and idealism. As a result, Epidemic is presented as "part two of the Europa trilogy"... continuing on from the themes and ideologies behind his first film, whilst concurrently laying the groundwork for his third project, Europa.

Taking into account the low-budget and the intentions behind it's conception, it is at times quite difficult to view Epidemic as anything more than a private joke between von Trier and his film-industry friends. The plot is self-referential and a little cluttered, revolving around a scriptwriter and director attempting to write the outline of a screenplay in five days after a computer virus has destroyed a year and a half's worth of work. To keep costs down, von Trier and his co-writer Niels Vørsel play the filmmakers within the film, trying desperately to flesh out their story about an idealistic young doctor going from town to town in an attempt to stop a life threatening plague that is destroying the country. The bulk of the film is shot very much in the documentary style, with shambolic camera-work, rough cuts and a bare, minimal use of production design. Some have noted how this style prefigures the use of back-to-basic film-making demonstrated in von Trier's later dogme film The Idiots, which is true, though for me the effect was more akin to von Trier and Vørsel's classic TV mini-series, The Kingdom.

The rest of the film is made up of beautifully photographed fantasy scenes that attempt to convey the basic story of the film within the film within the film. von Trier stars again in the fantasy scenes as the doctor flying over the country on a rope tied to a helicopter or discussing the meaning of life and death with a black priest who previously turned up as an eccentric cab driver (von Trier regular, Michael Simpson). The fantasy scenes are beautifully composed and photographed in lush 35mm black and white by Carl Dryer's favourite cinematographer Henning Bendtsen (who also shot the majority of Europa), which juxtaposes nicely with the high-contrast black and white 16mm footage of the real-world sequences. These sequences are a joy to watch, showing us the meticulous von Trier of The Element Of Crime, with the great majority of these brief sequences coming close to the visual poetry of filmmakers like the aforementioned Dryer, and von Trier's great hero at the time, Tarkovsky.

The real-life scenes just sort of ramble along - which is a great deal of fun if you don't find Lars and Niels too annoying as characters - as they go about writing this nonsense film that ends up spilling out into the real world in a bizarre and suitably absurd fashion. The strangest set of scenes in the whole film has to be the lengthy sequence towards the middle of the film in which the writer and director drive to Cologne to meet with the actor, Udo Kier, who, upon meeting the filmmakers, proceeds to recite an emotional monologue about his mother's death, and a secret she had kept pertaining-to his birth. Other bizarre scenes include a flashback to a moment in Niels' life, where he talks about pretending to be a teenager in order to trick a young American girl into revealing details about her home life, so that, like Kafka, he would be able to write a book about America, without actually having to go there.

The film establishes many of von Trier's cinematic preoccupations not already formed by The Element Of Crime, in particular the idealistic doctor blinded by his own arrogance, the use of medical horror (an early trip to the Kingdom hospital for Lars to observe a clandestine operation on a naked man), European devastation, questions of faith, improvisation and, last of all, hypnosis. Hypnosis was a key narrative device in all of the Europe trilogy, often used to position the audience within the mindset of the lead character... Here, however, it's used more as window dressing, as Lars and Niels invite a hypnotist and his subject to a dinner party with their financier at the Danish Film Institute so that, through hypnosis, the girl can act out the ending of their film. Here, the whole thing becomes far too surreal, as bubonic cysts break out on the guests, and Niels' wife starts vomiting blood all over the dinning room. Despite that lurid description, the use of actual hypnosis and the unbelievable horror etched onto the protagonist's face, makes it one of the most powerful scenes ever witnessed in a von Trier film (and yes... that does include the climax of Dogville, and The Idiots).

Ultimately, it's hard to really know what to think of Epidemic. Like The Element Of Crime, von Trier has since disregarded it as a post-modern parody of his cinematic hero's... then again, he also once said it was his favourite film of his own... so who knows? I personally quite like it, and I find the integration of the documentary style footage with Bendtsen's beautifully composed fantasy sequences to be quite spectacular and fairly hypnotic. At the end of the day, I'd say that this is a film for von Trier fanatics only, with everyone else probably despairing of all the self-aware references (a conversation towards the beginning about a script called "The Cop and the Whore" references The Element Of Crime) or the possibility that it's all just a silly joke.
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A ghost is haunting Europe
fo.lianesp17 January 2000
I like Von Trier's films and this one and "The Idiots" seem to me the ones in which he achieves through both the way they are shot and the plot in itself, a high quality of personal artistic expression.

Concentrating on "Epidemic", I think the contrast between the black and white parts and the "story" is intriguing and effective, visually disturbing and helping to create the symbolic meaning the viewer could take from this movie.

To me, beyond more evident interpretations about predestination, Dreyer-like bad and evil explanations, I believe Von Trier -with the help of, for instance, bleak houses, rundown sourroundings and disease- tries to tell us that the world we're living is infected by a growing disease, living its marks in EACH ONE OF US, making Europe in general a dull and heartless place to live, a world killing us very slowly and with it our soul, our sensibility and our ability to feel. Like the final song : "we all fall down".

Against the complacency and cynism of much of the cultural expression nowadays, I think Von Trier's work is an exemple. That is why I recommend "Epidemic" to IMDB users.
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The man's a genius.
ooeht28 September 2004
Of course, you gotta be a masochist to enjoy some people's genius - you know that if you bear with them they will take you to new levels of perception.

With Lars von Trier, the voyage is often hilarious. Epidemic is funny. Funny, in a Gummo kind of way: the characters are real, reality is eerie, and we laugh to break the tension; funny in a the characters say amusing things kind of way (preacher: "this bible is in goddamned Latin"); and funny in an Andy Kaufman screwing with the audience (yes, you) kind of way.

Make no mistake: you will suffer. If you are afraid, stay away from horror movies, ya pansy!

This movie also features some great aesthetic distance! It's bold!
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Let's not get over-sensitive, eh?
Jim Ramsden4 November 2004
Look, I know a substantial proportion of the American population get a little hot under the collar when funny-talking foreigners start criticising the American government and way of life, but hey - when you're the only country in the world inclined to and capable of dictation of world policy, you gotta take it on the chin. While Von Trier even makes me wince sometimes (the end credits to Dogville for instance), it's his point of view and is worthy of thought. He isn't here to lick your derrière clean for you - if you can't take a little criticism of the homeland, I'd steer clear of any imported movies for a while. Anyhoo, when truly disrespectful films like Titanic break records and reap awards with nary a raised eyebrow, it's double standards to expect non-US films to walk the line you'd like. Von Trier is a genius film-maker... you may not agree with his politics, but you cannot doubt his talent.
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Boring and Pretentious
TheExpatriate7009 February 2012
Epidemic sounded like it had an interesting concept when I got it from Netflix. The film follows the parallel stories of two screenwriters writing a script about a plague even as an epidemic breaks out around them, and scenes from the film they are writing. Leave it to Danish auteur Lars von Trier to ruin what could have been an extremely interesting movie.

The film's problem is that it has no real plot per se, just a series of unrelated images that fail to coalesce into a unified film. Large parts of the film seem to meander with no relevance to the rest of the film. At one point, the film pauses for five minutes to discuss the diseases that plague vineyards. Lars, we're here for the human epidemic, not to hear about noble rot!

Furthermore, the film is ugly looking for the most part, shot in a grainy black and white. Although this works in a scene where they are going through a lighted tunnel, it is overall annoying. Having the title up on screen for almost the entire picture was also distracting.

There are a few interesting scenes, such as a bit with Udo Kier, but it is not enough. Only at the end does the film achieve a disturbing quality with a genuinely haunting finale. By this point, however, it's too late. The viewer has lost interest and feels that his or her time has been wasted.
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A movie about making movies
gothic_a66621 April 2009
"Epidemic" is, at its heart of hearts, a movie about making movies. As such it challenges the relation between fiction and reality. The two are not statically established realms, self contained in their clearly contained functional domains but they are dynamically interacting at all levels and at all times. The result is a movie in which the narrative structure is dual and of a meandering nature, climaxing in what could be a merge between a programmed project that involves human intellectual intervention- the movie within the movie- and the outbreak of a natural phenomenon with its catastrophic consequences- the epidemic.

Styllistically, "Epidemic" is very much a Lars Trier movie and it shows. From the apparently disconnected flow of scenes to mix of gritty realism with allegory, the director imprints his very personal mark in all elements of "Epidemic". Its very structure attests to this and the imagery reflects it in a very overt manner. "Epidemic" seems to be a playing ground of sorts in which Lars von Trier experiments as much as possible and in trying different things creates a diverse mismatch of scenes that not always work completely well together although they create an atmosphere.

As the process of coalescence between "fiction" and "reality" (this reality being, of course, fictional in itself which adds another layer of complexity and challenges the very notion of the third and fourth walls) heightens the narrative frame shrinks from the stage that is Europe to a small room. The claustrophobia of the later phase of the movie bring the full impact of the plague to the viewer's attention via a limited sample of the population that permits a personal experience of it all.

Much like Bergman's "The Seventh Seal", the plague in question is to be read on many levels and very much like the Swedish director's movie, "Epidemic" is not for everyone. Those who find it interesting, however, may have a strangely riveting experience upon watching this clearly unconventional movie that pushes many borders even if does not do so in a completely coherent manner.
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