We have two script-writers who, after a year and a half of writing a script, have to start out from scratch and re-write their script in five days before a big meeting. But neither of them can remember anything important from their original story so they set out to write a horror/drama about an epidemic that's spreading around killing people. While the two write this script, we're thrown back and forth into the film they are writing and them writing it. When five days have gone by they have to present this rushed, short script.
Pretentious comes and pretentious goes. I wrote in my review for "The Element of Crime" that I didn't feel that one was as pretentious as you normally think Lars von Trier is. It's safe to say that "Epidemic" is just as pretentious as you think he is. But with that said, it wears it well. Between the style and the different layers, it's an interesting film to watch and far from just an artsy pseudo-intellectual film for the hell of being that.
I've always liked films about making films, and mockumentaries. "Epidemic" is part both. It's not really a mockumentary in that sense, but it is a story about Niels Vørsel and Lars von Trier playing themselves as script-writers, even if it's fictional selves and a fictional script. The story starts a week before they are gonna meet a man from a film institute after having written a script for a year and a half. However, they lose this script and have to start all over again, and end up changing the entire story because they couldn't remember what happened in the first one. They start writing a script about a disease that is spreading across the country. Now and then we are watching the film they are writing, and between that we either see the two trying to come up with ideas, or just doing random stuff that has little to do with the important story. And to top it all off, we have a narrator who explains what is going on on an even higher level. More specifically, it tells us that the script-writers have no idea that the epidemic they are writing about is happening for real. Eventually they have a short 12 page script written, and their D-day of presenting the script comes.
My biggest issue is that I would've wanted the film to focus even more on them writing the script and less on their random bullshit. Sure, there are some scenes that are really good and give us an idea of what kind of people they are, but it all just feels pointless when they could've cut the film down a bit instead. It would've worked a lot better if the movie was handheld and shot as a real documentary, but the fact is that this one isn't. It plays as a fictional movie in every sense.
Now to the style. It's black and white, and through the entire film we have a logo in the upper left corner saying "EPIDEMIC" in red letters. It's a gritty ol' film, except when we cut to the film-within-the-film, which is of course beautiful shot and has some great shots (as you would expect from a Lars von Trier film). It helps the movie to switch between the two as it helps you remember that what you are watching isn't supposed to be a documentary.
The film gets a bit boring after a while, but right about then it switches gear to evolve the real life disease that the narrator told us about. There is a scene earlier in the film where the script-writers draw a timeline on the wall and they explain that the film they are writing will have a really boring middle-part until the big dramatic end. I think it was meant to apply to the actual film as well, since the last act of the film is really different from the first one. I've heard that the last act of a film should be as powerful as the first two combined. This is the case here. It ends in an almost Cronenberg fashion and saved the movie. I would've thought it was a decent film with a different ending too, but it helped it from "decent" to "very good".
It's not my favorite Lars von Trier film, but it's a good effort. It's more pretentious than the previous film from the "Europa" trilogy. It's very experimental while maintaining a fairly realistic tone up until the ending. Many people will only think of this movie as pretentious and they're absolutely right to. It would be foolish of me to say that the film ISN'T pretentious, but it's one of those films who survive from it. It's a pretty humorous film, but there's also something obnoxious about these two script-writers and the way they act.