The awkward clip above is from the press conference at the Cannes Film Festival where director\auteur\provocateur Lars von Trier, sitting beside his latest actress\victim Kirsten Dunst, now infamously recalls his affections for Nazism and Hitler. Whether as a lark, a merely nonsensical sarcastic rib, or who knows, his true sentiments, it's the statement that made me "persona non grata" and forced his exit from the storied film festival. Strangely, just before this public meltdown, his latest film, Melancholia, (which is\was in competition, and has been described as an end of the world Rachel Getting Married) was favorably reviewed, and many early reviewers suggested it might snap a few prizes come festival end. The speech itself is fairly disgusting, and poor Dunst's pained reactions make it even more uncomfortable. But then again, this is Lars von Trier, a man whose work and reputation is built around discomfort and provocation. A man who has publicly admitted many times over that he's unstable. This is hardly the first time even he's made a ruckus at Cannes. A longtime fixture of the festival, his 2000 musical Dancer in the Dark won the Palme D'Or, he can usually be counted on to bring in a fair share of controversy both inside and outside the theater. His last venture to the film, for 2009's Antichrist, had another press conference meltdown of sorts. A journalist questioned the violent nature of the film (of which that film had plenty of--including a fairly graphic display of genital mutilation), which turned into an outburst and war of words by our favorite nutty Danish-man.
In his films, including Breaking the Waves, Dogville, The Idiots and Antichrist, he's not shy about pointing fingers and causing trouble. A longtime critic of both American and European values (even though his well documented fear of flying has kept his traveling at a minimum; he's never stepped foot on American soil), his films always raise eyebrows, either for the explicit sexual content, seemingly nonchalant gashes of violence, and implicit judgments of human nature. Not to mention a severe brutality, usually directed at his female protagonists (Emily Watson, Bjork, Nicole Kidman, Charlotte Gainsborg, and Kirsten Dunst could likely form a support group.) And while response of the films has always been all over the map, I would assume even from his fan base, there's always something eye-catching, revolting, interesting and endlessly fascinating about his films. Which I suppose raises the question: Is Cannes being unfair in banning a known provocateur from its gates? Should this not be a safe haven for films, and not the baggage that may come from its filmmakers? The endless question of separating a man from his art, which will likely never be fully resolved.
In 1915, D.W. Griffith changed and morphed cinema into a modern age with Birth of a Nation, of course that film righteously endorsed the Ku Klux Klan, shameful message but the film did change the landscape of movies. Elia Kazan named names in a fearful and silly era of American history, was that right? Of course not, but the man is also responsible for A Streetcar Named Desire, Splendor in the Grass, and On the Waterfront, his ultimate apologia that still sparks nerves (including my own), but undeniably on of the most artful and important films in American history. Whatever Roman Polanski did with that young girl was surely wrong, but does that make Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, The Pianist or The Ghost Writer wrong as well. Ditto for Woody Allen-- his latest, Midnight in Paris is his strongest and most wistful effort in years. And well, Mel Gibson...perhaps we should let sleeping dogs lie, although he played nice this year as The Beaver played Cannes...by not speaking, of course.
The point is that while the words spoken by von Trier are wrongheaded and silly, and at the same time it's difficult to judge the heads of the Cannes Film Festival for being too-sensitive (no matter how much time has passed, the subject will always be murky), there should perhaps be some considerations as too comments uttered by a self-described unstable man promoting his latest provocation. No one will likely ever find out the truth behind the comments themselves...even his apologies after the fact must be read in quotation marks. But the man's art (which is what it is) should speak for itself.