Lars von Trier’s Longtime Editor Molly Malene Stensgaard Says Goodbye to ‘The Kingdom’

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Danish editor Molly Malene Stensgaard, best known for her decades-long collaboration with Lars von Trier, won’t be returning for the third season of his cult series “The Kingdom,” she confirmed at Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, where she also joined the Crystal Globe jury.

“It will be strange,” she admitted. Ghita Norby, Soren Pilmark and Peter Mygind will reprise their original roles.

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“I did [‘The Kingdom’] less than a year after graduating from film school, where I learnt all sorts of rules. The first thing I heard from Lars was: ‘Forget them.’ It felt odd to stop this work relationship after almost 25 years. But it also felt right.”

After “The Kingdom,” which premiered in 1994 – with Jacob Thuesen and Pernille Bech Christensen also on editing duties – they went on to work on, among other films, “The Idiots,” “Dancer in the Dark” and “Melancholia,” with 2018 “The House That Jack Built” marking their final collaboration, at least for the moment.

“It feels like a done deal,” she told Variety. “But it would be stupid to say never.”

Their conscious uncoupling was caused by Stensgaard’s decision to pursue writing, she said. She is working on miniseries “The Gang,” about a Danish biker gang in the late 1980s, set to be released in the spring.

“It’s about a group of young people finding a new family and unfortunately, it’s a very violent one,” said Stensgaard. She won’t be editing it, however, fully committing to her new role.

“It was a very natural transition. Everyone should consider their work life as an open possibility that can change: my mother became a lawyer at 45. I wasn’t tired of editing. I just became more interested in something else.”

Still, Stensgaard – who also served as feature film consultant at the Danish Film Institute – was happy to talk about von Trier’s methods and quirks at KVIFF, describing their work as “scary and liberating.”

“I would be editing and he’s coming in, saying: ‘What if next time we shoot the whole film on a black floor with white lines?’ You go: ‘Sure Lars, that sounds nice.’ He ping-pongs with the people he works with, so in a way, I was involved even before the script.”

Trier’s 2003 Nicole Kidman-starrer “Dogville” used minimal, stage-like set with chalked outlines.

“There was always a new set of rules meant to make things more difficult. Dogme 95 [the filmmaking movement co-founded by von Trier] was part of it, then in ‘The House That Jack Built’ he wanted things to be ‘sloppy’,” she said.

“He is disappointed if you don’t do something completely ridiculous once in a while. His greatest fear is to get comfortable.”

It’s a sentiment she also happens to share these days, and one that partly motivated her career change.

“I realized it’s important for me to feel a bit shaky when I work. But I used to love this feeling of knowing that everything [you need in order] to solve this puzzle is right here, in front of you,” she said, describing her first time in the editing room as “life-changing.”

“As an editor, when you encounter a problem, you go back to the script and realize it’s not working there either. The first time that happened, I was arrogant enough to think that people were stupid. But it’s because there is a huge difference between film and written word. The editor is key to that transition.”

Admitting she always prefers to look for solutions instead of fighting, Stensgaard appreciated Trier’s collaborative approach.

“I wouldn’t feel creative in an environment where you argue a lot. Also, I’ve never ended up in a place where someone would say: ‘I am the director and I want it this way,’” she added. She also worked with the likes of Ole Bornedal and Viktor Kosakovskiy on “Aquarela.”

“In ‘The Kingdom,’ the idea was to loosen things up. We didn’t want to see anything boring. Lars knows where he wants to go, but he also knows that someone else can come up with something he can’t.”

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