Lars Von Trier, the Cannes Controversy and Talking to Adults.
I usually don't write about super current issues in the filmmaking world, but I'm really interested in the current debacle happening in France. For the past couple of days, the cinema world has been in an uproar over some comments made by controversial filmmaker Lars Von Trier during a press conference for his new film, MELANCHOLIA. Apparently, the film was a serious contender for the Palme d'Or until the incident, and remains in competition, even as the festival itself has banned the director from attending any of it, including the awards ceremony on Sunday.
His banning has been greeted with praise from The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendents, who condemned his comments as "repulsive" and went so far as the call his comments an "exploitation of victims' suffering for self-serving promotion and publicity." (Source: Moviefone Blog) The comments were also taken wildly out of context, as discussed in depth by both Jim Emerson and Ben Kenigsberg at TimeOut Chicago, not reflecting the situation as it happened at all.
So what did really happen? Von Trier, who has quite the reputation for being a provocateur as much as for his divisive films, and who has a well-documented history of deep depression, seems to be getting at the ways in which he understands hopelessness, discussing Hitler in his bunker, making plans even as Berlin is falling around him. He also seems to be discussing his relationship with fellow Danish filmmaker Susanne Biehr (who recently won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for IN A BETTER WORLD, who is also Jewish), as well as the conflicting sense of identity within himself after he spent much of his life believing that his Jewish step-father was his biological father, and his recent discovery that he is, in fact, of German descent.
That's a whole lot of context. Certainly his apology gets at the heart of all of that seeming to be the case - something was blown way out of proportion, and Von Trier couldn't help his own dark impulses to not keep his mouth shut. (For a really in-depth experience of the play-by-play, you can check out the coverage on Deadline, which has given much more context to the types of questions he was being asked as well as the general mood of the conference and some of his previous acts as European filmmaking's enfant terrible).
In any case, what I find most astonishing is that the entire context of the comments was missed so completely by the press, as well as the parties who would wish him harm or are glad that he is banned from the festival. Even the official press release from Cannes is laughable, and in the space of one paragraph makes a case for its showcasing of talent without boundaries while condemning one of the world's most prominent directors for conducting himself in the manner they say the festival operates in the spirit of two sentences earlier. Ridiculous.
Are we really not allowed to be adults anymore? Are we not allowed to grapple with difficult subjects and think about what is being said and why before we jump on the bandwagon of calling someone an anti-Semite and smearing his reputation? Apparently not. There are already comparisons of Von Trier to Roman Polanski, which is laughable, not because Polanski's past isn't problematic or worthy of some derision, but because Von Trier did not commit the same level of offense, no matter what you may think of him.
Von Trier was obviously working toward some sort of overarching metaphor about himself in relation to his films and fellow filmmakers, maybe even seriously discussing ethnic background at some level, but he even says in his statements that he doesn't condone what the Nazis did. But that doesn't matter, because Von Trier had already forgotten that there is no such thing as adult human beings capable of processing reality. At least, there aren't any out there according to how everyone has reacted to this situation.