What's the world coming to when a filmmaker can't joke about
the Nazis and the Final Solution during a Cannes
press conference? Lars Von Trier is a Dane and Denmark's decidedly non-Jewish king
put on a yellow star during the war, bravely defying the Nazis. Does this offer
residual protection for inane rambling by depression-prone provocateurs who
make movies in the 21st century? Nah --
but Von Trier is a Nazi like Britney Spears is an intellectual. And besides, Lars
was quite clear that he's NOT in favor of World War II although he thinks
Hitler provided the opportunities Albert Speer needed to bloom as an architect
-- and who could in good faith argue with that assertion?
Von Trier dug himself into a semantic hole by reflecting on
his own ethnic and cultural identity, in response to a question from a journalist. For years he believed himself to be a Jew and
felt fine and dandy about that -- although Von Trier alluded to Jewishness as a
"hierarchical" state of being. I took this to mean that his Jewish
credentials might have been the equivalent of one of the less coveted badges
here at the Festival, the ones whose recipients have to wait in line for a long
time with no guarantee they'll be admitted while being forced to watch higher
ranking journalists sashay up the steps ahead of them.
Von Trier's actresses -- Kirstin Dunst on his left and
Charlotte Gainsbourg on his right -- looked on in shifting amusement
and dismay as Lars offered up the news flash that Adolph Hitler wasn't a
particularly good person but that didn't mean the Fuhrer -- like, say, Mel
Gibson -- is completely undeserving of sympathy. (In related Cannes news, Jodie Foster's "The
Gibson, was rather well received in its Out of Competition slot. Foster
expressed her friendship for Gibson and her gratitude for his performance,
which she says she knows he's "extremely proud of." As well he should
be.) Dunst -- whose character displays a variation on the
clinical depression with which Gibson's character in "The
Beaver" is afflicted -- seemed to have less patience than Gainsbourg for
their director's scatter-brained pronouncements.
Two years ago Gainsbourg
couldn't say enough good things about the process of working with Lars on
probably has a better mental tuning fork for when he's serious or not
say, the average person reading an out-of-context wire service story.
Although he threw in two playfully low-blow digs at the Chosen People-status of Suzanne Bier (a countrywoman whose "A
Better World" recently
picked up a Foreign Language Oscar), the best clue to Von Trier's true feelings
about Jews and Nazis was when he seemed to realize that he was in a room full
of international press whose English wasn't necessarily fluent, prompting him
to wonder aloud "How do I get out of this sentence?"
Rest assured, he didn't come out in favor of the Shoah or
announce that Anne Frank had it coming.
He seemed to be saying in a joking manner that when he learned that not only
is he not Jewish but his family has German roots, he felt he "got"
where Hitler was coming from, through some sort of osmosis. Of course, Hitler
was Austrian. But so was Mozart. And so
is Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Mozart was
never in the movies -- not the real Mozart, anyway. Hey! This specious rambling
is kind of fun! Let's cast it in stone
and see if we can get a scandal going.
'Von Trier Is A Nazi' probably won't have the staying power of 'Polanski
Is A Child Molester' on a double bill with 'Woody Allen Is A Child Molester'
but let's throw virtual ink at it and see if it sticks.
Next thing you know, they'll be pulling prominent Frenchmen
off airplanes for allegedly forcing themselves on female hotel
personnel in Manhattan.
As a purely parenthetical aside, Von Trier's
"Melancholia," which is, like, the movie he brought to Cannes to, like, totally
compete in the Competition is flat-out terrific to watch. The opening reel is as majestic as any given frame in Terrence Malick's "The
Tree of Life." In "Melancholia," a planet ten times bigger than
is headed this way. Perhaps Von Trier got so caught up in his work that
he forgot we're all still orbiting around the sun. For had the world truly ended after the
film's premiere (immediately prior to the press conference), you would, like,
totally not be reading this because, like Hitler and Mozart, you'd be cosmic
EDITOR'S NOTE: Since Lisa posted this report, the Cannes Film
Festival declared Von Trier "persona non grata, with effect immediately," for
his remarks. Therefore he is effectively ejected, but his film "Melancholia," remains in the festival
and is still qualified for all appropriate awards.