As a result of yesterday’s comments by director Lars von Trier during a press conference for Melancholia, Cannes Film Festival organizers have made the following announcement:
‚ÄúThe 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‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúThe Board of Directors firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars Von Trier a persona non grata at the Festival de Cannes, with effect immediately.‚Äù
I have varying degrees of revulsion and sometimes grudging respect for films like Gaspar No√©’s Irreversible, Virginie Despentes’ Baise-moi, and Brillante Mendoza’s Kinotay, but despite how offensive anyone may feel those films to be, the Cannes selection committee chose each of them to screen at the festival. Brutal rape, female dismemberment, pedophilia — all acceptable subjects for films at festivals around the world. No matter how repellent the topic or how provocative a movie may be, I’ve always admired Cannes for its fearlessness in letting filmmakers express their sometimes muddled attempts to make sense of it all.
Oliver Hirschbiegel’s devastating film Downfall was entirely devoted to getting inside Hitler’s head during the last claustrophobic days in his bunker. But today it’s considered too far over the line for von Trier to say about Hitler, “I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end… I think I understand the man… I understand much about him, and yeah, I sympathize with him a little bit.”
Even if this entire statement had not been framed as part of von Trier’s arch and highly ironic attempt to describe his conflicted connections with Germany’s horrific history, how is, “I sympathize with him a little bit” so far beyond the deeply sympathetic portrayal of Hitler by Bruno Ganz? It strikes me that von Trier’s thoughts are far more complex than his off-the-cuff fumbling with the English language is equipped to express. But how can anyone confuse the human capacity to feel a grain of sympathy for a Nazi with being a Nazi sympathizer? There’s important nuance there, and a lot of people are missing it.
Watch von Trier’s 2-minute slow-motion meltdown after the cut.