Sunday, June 5, 2011
Easily the biggest jerk of international film at present is the Dane Lars von Trier. At last month's Cannes Festival he surprised the crowd that had turned up to hear his remarks about his latest film Melancholia by declaring himself a Nazi and an admirer of Hitler. Festival organizers promptly banned him from the remainder of the proceedings, but it didn't stop judges from awarding the Best Actress Palm d'Or to the film's star, Kirsten Dunst, who nevertheless thanked Trier for giving her the part.
Trier, for those of you who are blissfully unaware of him, adopted the nobiliary particle "von" in honor of Josef von Sternberg. Sternberg himself, just like Erich von Stroheim, adopted the "von" to give himself aristocratic credentials in Hollywood that, again like Stroheim, he didn't possess.
It is simply impossible to imagine anyone in touch with reality to say what Trier said in Cannes without understanding the outrage it would inspire. What he said was not simply stupid but quite intentionally outrageous: "I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew ... Then it turned out that I was not a Jew ... I found out that I was really a Nazi which also gave me some pleasure ... What can I say? I understand Hitler. He did some wrong things, absolutely, but I can see him sitting there in his bunker at the end ... I sympathise with him, yes, a little bit ... But come on, I am not for the second world war, and I am not against Jews. I am very much for Jews; well not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. But still, how can I get out of this sentence ... OK I'm a Nazi."
The statements came as a response to a question from a reporter about his "German origins", which may have been a dig at his use of the "von" in his name (the term, though used in Sweden, isn't used in Denmark). Since Trier sees himself as some kind of unsolicited agent provocateur of film, using his film company, Zentropa, for example, to produce hardcore pornography in the late 1990s, his statements should be considered par for the coarse.
It should also be pointed out that the Cannes organizers who banned Trier this year were the same people who gave him Palm d'Ors for The Element of Crime (1984), Europa (1991), Breaking the Waves (1996), and Dancer in the Dark (2000). It's been suggested that his latest remarks about Hitler would have been considered "career suicide" anywhere other than in the "rarefied atmosphere" of Cannes. However you may feel about artists' work being somehow above common morality, any artist deserves to be held accountable to standards of common decency.