Which is more likely: That filmmaker Lars Von Trier, known for making provocative statements, decided to come out at Cannes as a secret Nazi-sympathizer or that he was making a bad joke in response to dull press conference questions? The Cannes Film Festival has apparently decided it’s the former and banned the Danish director from the festival indefinitely by declaring him “persona non grata”. While Von Trier’s new film, Melancholia, is still eligible for the Palme d’Or, Von Trier will be unable to receive it if the film wins.
Hit the jump for what Von Trier said yesterday, his apology, the statement from Cannes, and my thoughts on the festival’s hypocrisy.
Here’s what Von Trier told reporters at the Melancholia press conference yesterday:
“For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew,” he began, “then I met (Danish and Jewish director) Susanne Bier and I wasn’t so happy. But then I found out I was actually a Nazi. My family were German. And that also gave me some pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler…I sympathize with him a bit.”
Von Trier qualified that “I don’t mean I’m in favor of World War II and I’m not against Jews, not even Susanne Bier” before digging himself deeper. “In fact I’m very much in favor of them. All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain in the ass but…”
“Now how can I get out of this sentence? Ok. I’m a Nazi.”
This diatribe was preceded by Von Trier saying that his next project might be a 3-4 hour porn film featuring Melancholia co-stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourgh and it will have “lots of uncomfortable sex.” His Nazi rant was followed by him saying, “Yes. We Nazis like to do things on a big scale. Maybe I could do The Final Solution.”
You can argue that Von Trier’s comments were in bad taste, but I think that if you look at Von Trier’s films and his past interviews, you can see that these kind of comments—not the content, but the tone—are par for the course. This is a man who tattooed the word “Fuck” on his right hand, but I don’t think when he flashes his knuckles he’s instructing people to have intercourse. Oddly, we’ve come to use “Nazi” and “Hitler” so interchangeably with the word “Evil”, that they’ve almost lost their meaning. Politicians and pundits call each other “Nazis” on a regular basis and no one bats an eye. I can understand Von Trier taking some heat for the Israel comment because as we all know, Israel is the most perfect country ever and it has never done anything wrong or controversial.
But of course the press, uncritically, took his statements at face value and faster than you could say “Heil Hitler”, Von Trier was now a Nazi sympathizer. In response, he issued the following statement:
“If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize. I am not antisemitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi.”
While I’m not a fan of the “If someone was offended”-apology (because it’s a clear indicator that the person saying said apology isn’t actually sorry), he made it and that should have been the end of the story.
Not for Cannes. Today, the festival banned Von Trier and said:
“The board of directors profoundly regrets that this forum has been used by Lars von Trier to express comments that are unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity that preside over the very existence of the festival. The Board of Directors firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars von Trier a persona non grata at the Festival de Cannes, with effect immediately.”
This would be a defensible position for the festival were it not for one problem:
The festival had no problem inviting Mel Gibson to Cannes to promote The Beaver and giving him a standing ovation. Here are some statements Gibson made, not a press conference, but when he thought no one was listening:
“You look like a fucking bitch in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it will be your fault.”
“You’re a fucking mentally deprived idiot. You’re a fucking using whore. I own you.”
“Jews are responsible for all of the wars in the world.”
And other reprehensible comments that would take me far too long to catalog. Even worse than verbally abusing his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, he physically abused her as well.
But I don’t care about all of that because it’s not my position to judge the personal lives of people I don’t know or interact with on a daily basis. We should be making judgments of their work because we’re not asking Mel Gibson or Von Trier to be our bastions of moral turpitude or to be our bestest friends. We became interested in them because of the work they create, not the personal trainwrecks they create for themselves. Cannes clearly has no interest in actually policing the behavior of everyone it invites and the banning of Von Trier is a case of “cover-your-ass” and a poor one at that.