So. Lars Von Trier made a little bit of a mess of things yesterday. The Danish filmmaker behind Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Antichrist is notorious for making outrageous, headline-grabbing comments. He referred to himself as “the best director in the world” at the 2009 Cannes International Film Festival, but he managed to “top” that yesterday when he admitted to being able to sympathize with Adolf Hitler during the Cannes press conference for his latest effort, Melancholia. As a result, the festival organizers made the move of declaring Von Trier a “persona non grata” and banning him from future gatherings in a public statement.
In order to understand this situation, you first really ought to read exactly what it was that the director said (via Huffington Post):
“The only thing I can tell you is that I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew, then later on came [Danish and Jewish director] Susanne Bier, and suddenly I wasn’t so happy about being a Jew. That was a joke. Sorry. But it turned out that I was not a Jew. If I’d been a Jew, then I would be a second-wave Jew, a kind of a new-wave Jew, but anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi, because my family is German. And that also gave me some pleasure. So, I, what can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things but I can see him sitting in his bunker. I’m saying that I think I understand the man. He is not what we could call a good guy, but yeah, I understand much about him and I sympathize with him … But come on! I’m not for the Second World War. And I’m not against Jews. No, not even Susanne Bier. I am very much for them. As much as Israelis are a pain in the ass. How do I get out of this sentence? Okay, I am a Nazi. As for the art, I’m for Speer. Albert Speer I liked. He was also one of God’s best children. He has a talent that … Okay, enough.”
Yikes. You can almost visualize him digging that hole deeper and deeper, knowing already that he’s too far down to climb out and hoping against hope that if he keeps digging, he’ll break through to a new reality. That didn’t happen though. Instead, Von Trier made some horribly offensive comments and was banned from one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals as a result. Here’s what the Cannes organizers had to say (via Deadline):
“The Festival de Cannes provides artists from around the world with an exceptional forum to present their works and defend freedom of expression and creation. The Festival’s Board of Directors, which held an extraordinary meeting this Thursday 19 May 2011, profoundly regrets that this forum has been used by Lars Von Trier to express comments that are unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity that preside over the very existence of the Festival.
The Board of Directors firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars Von Trier a persona non grata at the Festival de Cannes, with effect immediately.”
It’s worth noting that Von Trier later apologized for his comments, but it’s really little more than a footnote at this point. Anyone who reads the actual facts can pretty clearly see that this was some misguided attempt at… humor? Perhaps it was intentional, given the filmmaker’s penchant for grabbing headlines, or perhaps that sort of attitude is simply a reflex for him. Regardless, the content was, correctly, deemed by one and all to be offensive and Von Trier is now being punished for it. Do you think that the punishment is just? Where do you fall on this?