Von Trier’s anti-Semitic remarks cause Cannes controversy
Industry insider believes comments will derail his film’s Palme d’Or bid As is often the case at the Cannes Film Festival, something other than the actual movie screenings is grabbing the headlines, and this year it would appear to be...
As is often the case at the Cannes Film Festival, something other than the actual movie screenings is grabbing the headlines, and this year it would appear to be Lars von Trier's turn to provide the controversy with comments about the Holocaust and his ambition to make a pornographic film starring Kirsten Dunst.
Von Trier’s new film ‘Melancholia’ enjoyed its world premiere last night to reasonably positive feedback from the traditionally hard-to-please Cannes audience. Critics were already blunting their pens in anticipation of swallowing their preconceptions when they sat down for the post-screening press conference. But then the director proceeded to dig a hole from which he couldn’t escape.
Sitting with several of the film’s actors - including Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, John Hurt and Stellan Skarsgard – Von Trier embarked on a prolonged ramble after being asked about his fascination with the Nazi aesthetic.
“I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew," said Von Trier. “Then later on came Susanne Bier [who is Jewish] and then suddenly I wasn't so happy about being a Jew. No, that was a joke, sorry. But it turned out I was not a Jew, but even if I'd been a Jew, I would be kind of a second-rate Jew because there is kind of a hierarchy in the Jewish population. But anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew, and then I found out I was really a Nazi, you know, because my family was German ... which also gave me some pleasure" ( see the video).
A stunned press pack looked on, and Von Trier felt compelled to continue.
"What can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things, yes absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end. I think I understand the man. He's not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him and I sympathise with him a little bit. But come on, I'm not for the Second World War, and I'm not against Jews. I am of course very much for Jews. No, not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. But still, how can I get out of this sentence?"
Though the discomfort on the faces of his cast was painfully obvious, most of the comments would make sense to those familiar with Von Trier’s upbringing. He did not discover until he was 33 that his non-religious Jewish father was not his biological father, who was in fact an artistic German – a revelation he learnt from his mother on her death bed. In a 2005 interview with signandsight.com, he revealed that his mother slept with the man because her husband had such ordinary genes. “If I'd known that my mother had this plan, I would have become something else,” he said. “I would have shown her. The slut!”
However, worse was still to come when a reporter asked if he could imagine making a film that was even bigger in scale than ‘Melancholia’.
"Yeah, that's what we Nazis ... we have a tendency to try to do things on a greater scale. Yeah, maybe you could persuade me." And he was also heard to mutter: "the final solution with journalists", before concluding with: "OK, I'm a Nazi."
The most visibly affected of the actors was Dunst, who was seen to whisper “Oh my God, this is terrible" and at the end: "Oh Lars, that was intense.” Asked about her nude scene in the film, Von Trier told journalists he intended to do a porn film with her.
"Now she wants more,” he said. “That's how women are, and Charlotte is behind this. They want a really, really, really hardcore film this time, and I'm doing my best.”
Already, film industry experts are predicting that this will eliminate the chances of ‘Melancholia’ winning the Palme D’Or, the result of which is expected on Sunday. Von Trier previously won the award in 2000 with ‘Dancer in the Dark’.
"You can't award him a Palme d'Or, politically," Jason Solomons, a journalist with the Observer newspaper who is the chairman of the Film Critics' Circle in London, told Reuters. "People might say it should go to the art and not the artist, but these days I don't think that's true or right.”
And the comments have drawn complaints from various Jewish bodies, including the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, which said in a statement: "Holocaust survivors condemn Von Trier's repulsive comments as an insensitive exploitation of victims' suffering for self-serving promotion and publicity. We cannot give a review of his film, but as a person Von Trier is a moral failure.”
Von Trier has since the incident made a public apology, but the ‘anti-Semitic’ tag can be a difficult one to shake off. Hollywood Reporter has already observed that the director has " pulled a Mel Gibson" – an actor/director who five years on from making anti-Jewish comments is still suffering the repercussions.
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