Lars von Trier's Apologies and Responses to the Cannes Nazi Fiasco
We promised to keep you updated on the situation regarding Danish director Lars von Trier being named persona non grata at the Cannes Film Festival. While there isn't much news to report, per se, von Trier himself has remained in the press over the last week. He's issued numerous apologies, conducted quite a few interviews, and spoken out for and against everything that happened. I'm not here to debate whether he's truly apologetic or not, or whether he's truly a Nazi or just made a huge mistake at the press conference, but I decided to collect the various responses that von Trier has had since he was banned from Cannes last week.
Originally, after the press conference last Thursday, von Trier issued an apology that Cannes officially sent out. It simply stated: "The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology." However, the latest official apology that has been going around was sent out a few days ago from a letter sent to Cannes president Gilles Jacob that was written by Iran's deputy culture minister for cinematic affairs, Javad Shamaqdari (via Variety), condemning their decision to ban him. From von Trier:
"In my opinion, freedom of speech, in all its shapes, is part of the basic human rights. However, my comments during the festival's press conference were unintelligent, ambiguous and needlessly hurtful.
My intended point was that the potential for extreme cruelty, or the opposite, lies within every human being, whatever nationality, ethnicity, rank or religion. If we only explain historical disasters with the cruelty of individuals we destroy the possibility of understanding the human mechanisms, which in turn are necessary in order to avoid any future crimes against humanity."
Magnolia Pictures, who is distributing Melancholia in the US, also issued this von Trier statement following the press conference which said pretty much the same: "If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize. I am not antisemitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi." Time to move on, right? Of course not, as this will be an issue debated forever, or at least until Cannes reverses the ban on von Trier. Kirsten Dunst went on to win the Best Actress award in Cannes for Melancholia (review), directed by LVT, so congrats, but that doesn't mean he's back on the good side yet.
As we all know, the Lars von Trier 2011 Cannes Film Festival debacle began when he made a huge gaffe and said some things at his press conference about being a Nazi and sympathizing with Hitler (watch the video) that got him into quite a bit of unnecessary trouble. Pressure from all sides forced Cannes to take action and initially issue an apology, then the next day a press release stating he was "persona non grata" from the festival, despite allowing his film to eventually win an award. Now that he's banned and is surrounded by this Nazi negativity, he's been apologizing and even speaking to other press about what exactly happened.
Over at indieWIRE, they had the chance to interview Lars von Trier and got him to open up in regards to the press conference and "why he said the things he did" in a way that no other responses have achieved yet.
"Well, if I had said it in Danish, it would have been much more nuanced. I was naive and stupid. I had thought, especially after I saw Bruno Ganz in that film about Hitler, that there is a little Hitler-like man inside of all of us. It’s like with Mao and Stalin, sometimes there is a no-go zone.
I was extremely stupid, but on the other hand we should worry about not being able to talk about certain things. At the press conference, I was in a good mood. It that room, with so many people and TV cameras, it was like a big blank audience; I was talking to the world. Here I am not, sitting with you, and I can see your face. It’s totally different. As my aunt used to say, 'You can’t wash your hands in ink.' (laughs)"
All in all it just sounds like a very embarrassing and now troubling situation for von Trier, who later said "I will never do a press conference again" and explained that he's a "cultural rebel" and does what he wants anyway. So he can join the ranks of Terrence Malick, Stanley Kubrick and the Wachowski Siblings, which ain't a bad group of filmmakers to be compared with, honestly. As for what exactly his persona non grata means, he says "I'm not allowed to come within 100 meters of the Palais." Again, it's sad to hear that a filmmaker as accomplished as von Trier has been banned from Cannes for a situation that seems overblown.
Von Trier also spoke with the Hollywood Reporter in an interview, this time taking aim at Mel Gibson, who (at the time of the interview) recently walked the Cannes red carpet for his film The Beaver. He said:
"It's a pity because (Jewish festival head) Gilles Jacob is a close personal friend of mine. What I said was completely stupid but I am absolutely no Mel Gibson. I am absolutely not Mel Gibson. When I said what I did about Hitler, what I meant was I could imagine what it was like for Hitler in the bunker, making plans. Not that I would do what Hitler did. But it's a pity if it means I will lose contact with Cannes and it's a pity if it hurts the festival or if it hurts the film.
…You know, I'm 55. Maybe this is a mid-life crisis. I got my first tattoo (the letters f-u-c-k on the knuckles of my right hand). I'm prouder of this tattoo than I am of the film."
I decided to include that second quote because, well, it was just as fascinating as hearing von Trier have to apologize every day. If you want to see a clearer photo of his knuckles with the tattoo, click here. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on this, some sites think he is just crazy and went too far, others think he's just crazy but still makes great movies and that's all the really matters. I'm definitely for the latter, and even though I didn't enjoy Melancholia that much, I'd love to continue to see Lars von Trier return to Cannes, maybe even next year, with his latest film(s). But only time will tell how this entire situation will pan out.
It's best to end with this quote from Lars von Trier which sums up, all in one, how sad the whole situation has become. From THR: "When I went into the press conference I felt like I should entertain people there. And I know everyone comes to see what crazy thing Lars is going to say. And then I started a sentence which I couldn't get out of. At the time I didn't think much about it. Everyone seemed to understand and there was laughter. It's only afterwards, when you read 'I sympathize with Hitler' that I thought 'oh boy.'"