Cannes Film Festival 2011: Lars von Trier responds to being banned by the festival
The Cannes Film Festival's board of directors has declared Lars von Trier persona non grata, a punishment for his boneheaded but (if you had the context and were familiar with his penchant for provocations) not particularly offensive jokes about Hitler and Nazism at his press conference for Melancholia yesterday. The film itself remains in contention for prizes, but von Trier cannot attend the ceremony—and according to the press office, it's unclear what his status will be in future years.
As fate would have it, I heard the news of the ban at the Hotel Le Mas Candille in Mougins, France, minutes before von Trier sat down for what was already destined to be a less-than-typical interview. "If any of you would like to hit me, you're perfectly welcome," he told the assembled journalists as he took his seat. "I must warn you that I might enjoy it."
That broadside was a joke, of course, and a good chunk of our time consisted of von Trier's apologies for his "stupid" remarks. "I'm known for provocations, but I like provocations when they have a purpose. And this [von Trier was initially responding to a journalist's question] had no purpose whatsoever. Because I'm not Mel Gibson. I'm definitely not Mel Gibson." He then talked about his visits to concentration camps.
"I think the Holocaust is the worst crime against humanity that I can remember," von Trier says. Of why his remarks have blown up into a controversy, he says, "I believe that it's an especially delicate subject down here, because the French have a history of being extremely cruel to the Jews."
Way to tamp down that controversy, Lars.
Von Trier also (re-)explained what he was saying. When he jokingly said yesterday, "I am a Nazi," he points out that it started in a discussion of his investigations of his heritage. For many years, he thought he had Jewish roots, but later found out that his real father was another man, of non-Jewish German heritage. In "stupid" Danish slang, he says, Nazi is used synonymously with German.
Be that as it may, the damage is done, and von Trier's understanding is that he has to keep within a certain distance (he thinks 100 meters) of the festival. "I'm very proud of being persona non grata. I've never been that before in my life, and that suits me extremely well," he says.
"I should be carried around in a little cage with something in my mouth and shown to the press," he adds, and later noted, "I'm joking a lot. I think you need, as journalists, even though you don't find it funny, to see my intention."
Taking a serious tone, he says he offered to have the film withdrawn from competition if the festival thought keeping it in play would be a distraction.
Below is the festival's official statement:
"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."