Yikes. We’ve had lots of scandals and stories swirling around this year’s film festival. When Mel Gibson came to town to support Jodie Foster in promoting their movie ‘Beaver’, all talk turned to his recent bad behaviour. Then there’s the French IMF head (well former IMF head) who’s been charged in New York for allegedly raping a chamber maid. That was all everyone could talk about for 24 hours…but now it’s Lars von Trier’s turn.
The director of ‘Melancholia’ is an old visitor to Cannes. I first met him here back in 1991. He’s an enigma. Not your usual kind of guy. (He has the f-word etched onto the fingers of his fist.) He won’t travel by plane. So he drives here from Denmark in a campervan. And he’s very funny. In the press conference yesterday, after the screening of his movie ‘Melancholia’, they were loving him and laughing. I’ve never heard so much laughter at a press conference in Cannes.
At one point he said that the star of his latest film, Kirsten Dunst, had asked him to make a 3 or 4-hour porn video with her. Inappropriate. Totally. But meant to be funny. Likewise when somebody asked a pointed question about him discovering he had German roots, he joked about being a Nazi and having some understanding of Hitler. Again – extremely inappropriate and horribly insensitive. And he should’ve apologised immediately and cleared the air. But he didn’t. He apologised later saying that he is not a Nazi supporter at all. But now – 24 hours later his joke has turned horribly wrong and he’s been banned from the Cannes Film Festival. Apparently his film will still be in competition, but he is now a ‘persona non grata’.
I heard the news in the loo at the Majestic Hotel this afternoon. Some girls were getting ready for tonight’s AmFar function at Hotel du Cap (which is to be hosted by Madonna and attended by all the glitterati including princess-in-waiting South African Charlene Wittstock). They were saying that they had too many Jewish friends to forgive Lars and that he’d been banished. So I rushed to one of the movie publicist’s to verify the news…and apparently in France, even though Lars was making a joke, it is against the law to make racist jokes. I’m not sure if this is true. What I do know is that as inappropriate as Lars’ remarks were, so too was the press reaction (from some press)…journalists blowing his comments out of proportion in order to provoke, just like him, and sell newspapers…
It is a melancholy moment for Lars because he was part of the ‘Cannes family’ – this was his ninth movie in competition here…
Lars has just told ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ that he’s very sorry for what he said and that it was meant as a joke but misunderstood. Apart from the fact that he grew up thinking he was Jewish (his stepfather is Jewish), he said “it’s a pity because Gilles Jacob [head of the festival who happens to be Jewish] is a close personal friend of mine. What I said was completely stupid but I am absolutely no Mel Gibson … 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 appears he’s not too melancholy: “I have to say I’m a little proud of being named a persona non grata. I think my family would be proud. I have a French order. Now they will likely tear it off my chest.”
He said that although he accepts his ban, he hopes his movies will not be banned, adding (again provocatively): “Because even if I was Hitler – and I must now state for the record I am not Hitler – but even if I was Hitler and I made a great film, Cannes should select it.”
Here’s the statement from the Cannes Film Festival Board:
“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 board of directors 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.”
And here you can watch the controversial part of the press conference: