I remember in the nineties, I was watching all the interviews from Cannes live on the internet. It was the time of early Von Trier and Besson and Kusturica; an exciting time for independent cinema. I was hooked. I wanted to learn and experience everything, all the previews and the press conferences, and I savored them like a delicious dish.
What once was new and emerging has now become the establishment and, though I am still interested in Von Trier’s work, and the line-up of Cannes this year seemed intriguing enough, I now seldom watch those press conferences online like in the old days; and I only hear about them when something scandalous happens.
This was the case with Lars von Trier’s conference for his new film Melancholia. The first I heard about it was a report from Roger Ebert’s wife Chaz. According to her, Von Trier had joked about how he could see Hitler’s point of view and sympathize with nazis.
At the bottom of Chaz’ report, there was an interesting comment from a reader, saying that von Trier’s comments had been more on the ironic side: the kind of irony that the European press is better at conveying than the over-simplifying mainstream American media. This reader explained that von Trier had actually talked about how he had grown up thinking he was of Jewish descent, but his mother had later revealed to him that he was actually a descendant of a German aristocrat of some sort. Then he had said something about understanding why Hitler would be sitting there in his bunker and about having nothing against Jews, though thinking that Israel was “a pain in the ass.”
See for yourselves: (there is a beautiful preview of Melancholia preceeding the conference clip)
Controversy sells. If Lars was looking for attention, this would have been the perfect way to do it.
He has never been known as a likable guy. He is said to have “tortured” his actresses, most remarkably
Björk during the shoot of the wonderful Dancer in the dark.
On the one hand, I usually prefer people/artists who are “nice,” but I have learnt that many truly great artists are only faithful to their art. It is hard to make a great movie when your main goal is to “be nice.” You have to constantly say no to things that don´t befit your purpose, and it takes a certain character to do it.
This is a very personal thing; but somehow, over the years, I have realized that some people would just rather be nice, but I thank the Universe for people who have what it takes to follow their art at all costs, and who have the amazing talent to make it worth their while.
After seeing the video, Lars looks so awkard in it and so ill at ease, that it is hard to think that he was trying to get publicity. It seems that he was just trying to make a joke about a subject that is not the best source material for making jokes, especially during a press conference.
While I think saying “I understand Hitler, though he did some bad things,” is sending out the wrong message, whatever your objectives may be; I also feel that the ghost of over-simplification is looming here.
Von Trier has been declared persona non grata by the Festival, which also banned from the closing ceremony. This also means that he won´t be able to pick up his Palme d´or, if Melancholia should win one.
All I can think now is that I wanna see the delicious Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst in that strange but extremely intriguing movie, regardless of whatever faux pas its director may have been capable of.
After seeing the conference video, I have to say that it just depicts a poor lost guy trying to get himself out of a mess. I believe that Von Trier shouldn´t be crucified for it, but rather, he should be given an opportunity to apologize for his poor sense of humor and unfortunate attempt at “harmless” provokation.
(And now, I´m sure there will be at least someone out there who will assume that I sympathize with Hitler because of what I wrote here. Just in case, that is so far from the truth that there is not enough distance in the whole Universe…)
I guess the moral of the story should be that some directors should never talk about anything other than their films…
(LARS VON TRIER HIMSELF SORT OF AGREES IN THIS POST-FIASCO INTERVIEW ON INDIEWIRE.
This other one on the New York Times, I found sort of redeeming.)