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Lisa Nesselson -- Cannes report #2: more Von Trier

 

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 Beaver," starring 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 "Antichrist." She probably has a better mental tuning fork for when he's serious or not

 

than, 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 Earth

 

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 dust.

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.

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