Lisa Nesselson -- Cannes report #3: Trier today, gone tomorrow


A THOUGHT FOR TODAY (cited on A-Word-A-Day by Anu Garg):

"It is well to know something of the manners of various peoples, in order more sanely to judge our own, and that we do not think that everything against our modes is ridiculous, and against reason, as those who have seen nothing are accustomed to think." -Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician (1596-1650)

I'm not sure whether this provides a useful context for the continuing saga of Lars von Trier's incredibly stupid and ill-advised but not-to-be-taken-seriously remarks, but I think it can never hurt to quote a leading French philosopher when examining stuff that transpires in France.

As of today (Friday May 20th), I have it on good authority that some VERY powerful French media figures who happen to be Jewish exerted enormous pressure on the Cannes Film Festival to retaliate against von Trier. These well-connected individuals campaigned for the cancellation of Wednesday's formal evening screening of "Melancholia," a step they hoped would be topped off by making the film ineligible for awards consideration.  Instead, the fest slapped the cultural equivalent of a restraining order on von Trier (the director told IndieWIRE's Howard Feinstein that he is "not allowed within 100 meters of the Palais." 

The screening went ahead as scheduled with the attendant pomp despite, uh, the circumstance.  In other words, the programming side of the festival that has nurtured von Trier's career every step of the way did not leave its wayward protégé entirely in the lurch, after all.

If this take on matters is correct, then the Festival's declaration that von Trier is persona non grata may actually be seen as an affectionate compromise, a gesture that differentiates the man from his work (the only sane approach when loose cannons play with verbal matches).

Since the beat-it-in-Latin decree was made public, Von Trier's comments to journalists appear surprisingly sanguine. One could be forgiven for speculating that Von Trier may well have been told that certain powers-that-be expected the Festival to throw him to the wolves (or at the very least to that talking fox from "Antichrist" mouthing the words "Chaos reigns!").


Von Trier told Feinstein: "As far as I'm concerned, I still have two good friends here, Gilles Jacob and Thierry Fremaux." 

He could be oblivious, he could be bluffing or he could be semi-secure in the knowledge that what seems like a harsh over-reaction is in fact a diplomatic smokescreen that makes the best of a wretched set of circumstances.

For what it's worth, private feedback to my previous blog entry has included encouragement from several adult children of concentration camp survivors, including a film school classmate whose father is a Schindler Jew. It has also brought my way the thoughtful observations of people who see no leeway to josh -- with or without talent -- about the unspeakable horrors visited upon the world by Adolph Hitler. (Fair enough. Von Trier was as Not Funny as it is possible to be.  But I doubt I'm the only kid who grew up thinking the "Springtime for Hitler" production number in Mel Brooks' "The Producers" was not only hysterically funny but also a warmly embraced transformation of horror into humor. Hitler had only been out of the picture for 23 years when Brooks made HIS picture.)


Did Lars von Trier say some monumentally stupid and offensive things?

Absolutely. Did he mean a word of it? I think not.  (I also heard from an American who knows von Trier and says this sounds like a typical bout of his filterless approach to saying things out loud in English.)

French news continues to be obsessed with the sorry saga of Dominique Strauss-Kahn who was, until very recently, incarcerated in the portion of Rikers Island reserved for detainees with communicable diseases. Is stupidity contagious?

It can't begin to compensate for the ha-ha-free brouhaha initiated by Von Trier, but I'd like to share one of the best jokes I've ever heard about the nature of being Jewish in a hostile world. It was told to me by Paul Mazursky when he was an honoree of the French-American Film Workshop in Avignon in the early 1990s:

Moishe and Shlomo have been captured by the Nazis and are facing a firing squad.

"Moishe," whispers Shlomo, "I'm scared -- I'm going to ask for a blindfold."

To which a censorious Moishe retorts: "Shush! Don't make trouble!"

by Lisa Nesselson


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