Lars Von Trier is long and well established as one of our most controversial active filmmakers, and a man who is self-admittedly prone to manic-depression and a bevy of phobias. In fact, he has historically made the trip from Denmark to Cannes, France by car because of his paralyzing fear of flight. And it is at Cannes that he has dropped his latest interview bomb where, under pressure to characterize himself and how his Germanic origins have influenced him, he admitted to being a Nazi. It’s true that he did give pause to the whole room, and that those around him were visibly uncomfortable, but he was trying to make a point- just uncomfortably and without any forethought, all wrapped in irreverence.
You’ll see the quotes everywhere, but most outlets (including Hollywood Reporter) edited the bejeezus out of them. Here’s my pretty much full-on transcript, taken from actual video:
“For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew, then I met Susanne Bier and I wasn’t so happy. No, that was a joke, sorry… [the room laughs]. But it turned out I was not a Jew, and if I had been a Jew I’d have been a second-rate Jew, because there’s kind of a… hierarchy in the Jewish population.
But no, I really wanted to be a Jew but then I found out I was really a Nazi. Because my family was German, which also gave me some pleasure. [chuckle] 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 at the end
[Kirsten rolls her eyes “oh god”]
[Looking at her] What? There will come a point at the end of this- I will- No, I’m just saying I think I understand the man. He’s not what you would call a “good guy” but I understand much about him. I sympathize with him a little bit. I don’t mean I’m in favor of World War II and I’m not against Jews, not even Susanne Bier. That was also a joke. In fact I’m very much in favor of them. All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain in the ass but… Now how can I get out of this sentence? [laughter] No, I just want to say about the art- I’m very much for… Speer, is it? Albrecth Speer I liked. He was also maybe one of god’s best children, but he had some talent. It was possible for him to use during… [giving up] Ok. I’m a Nazi.”
Hey look, a shitty joke uncomfortably spiraling amidst contextualizing of his appreciation for art from questionable people. That never happens! He continued the thought answering the next question, about doing a larger-scale film in the future…“Yes. We Nazis have a tendency to try and do things on a greater scale. [chuckling] Maybe I could do The Final Solution, with journalists.”
You can actually see all of that in the press conference yourself, available on the Cannes website [if it’s working], and it’s filled with delightful context that dilutes some of the power of those nasty little paraphrasings (about 36 minutes in).
To be fair, the nearby cast-members (including Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) were quite shocked themselves and the whole thing ended on an awkward note. That said, the rest of press conference was chipper enough, filled with laughter at the director’s other jokes, some of which included writing and cutting together an extended porn film at Kirsten Dunst’s request. There were drunk jokes aimed at Keifer and Udo, jokes about his the length of his films… all kinds of stuff. Fun times for all. Really it comes down to Von Trier trying to tiptoe around discussing that he finds certain Nazi artists fascinating, and that there is potential thematic material in the story of Hitler.
Be ready for the wide range of reactions something like this provokes, which include the genuinely hysterical hand-wringing over the offensive comments, the holier-than-though responses from folks that bend over backwards to simply dismiss Von Trier, to rise above it all, and then the other end filled with guys (like me) declaring “All you people pissing yourselves with fury over hitler comments. SO HILARIOUS LOLOLOL. I’m so fucking edgy I think this shit is dumb but the offended reactions make me hard. HAH”
So yeah, there’s no real way to react without being annoying as piss, basically. I love you guys though, so you should know it happened, what was actually said, and that people will care. So there it is.
What’s for sure is this: Von Trier’s career is no danger. Nothing about any of his projects will ever be changed solely by this comment. It doesn’t matter. Von Trier’s public persona, like so many artists of his kind, is one of stream-of-consciousness log-stirring with a touch of the anarchy of the immature. It’s what makes us pay attention, and “I’m a Nazi” will go down like “I am the best film director in the world.”
More worthy of mention is the general reaction to Melancholia, the film that Von Trier brought to the festival. Some are calling it a boring, pretty slog while others are calling it his best yet. Frankly, I’d be worried by anything else- divided opinions on a Von Trier film means things are right as rain. In general the reactions seem to mirror those that came out from Tree Of Life earlier in the week. I was able to see that film yesterday, and I now assume the same will be true for both director’s cosmic-scaled films of birth and death… how much you appreciate them relies entirely on how you approach cinema as a viewer, and what you’re looking for from a few hours in a dark theater.
Let me know in the comments of on the boards if you give a shit about what Von Trier said. Do you detect a deeper insensitivity that needs to be addressed, or is this a fleeting moment of awkwardness and nothing more?
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