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Widely acknowledged as provocative and fairly enigmatic, Lars Von Trier was the first director to have officially been declared ‘persona non grata’ at the Festival de Cannes over its 64 years. The misplaced “playful” remark on being a Nazi was made by the Danish director, who has previously won the Palms for Dancer in the Dark in 2000, during the press conference about his apocalyptic movie Melancholia. According to the Board of the Directors, the banishment was related to “comments that are unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity,” but what are we exactly talking about? In case you didn’t catch the comment in full, here is the uncut version of the offending speech the director made after being questioned about the influence of Nazi aesthetic, such as of the architect Albert Speer, on his film by one journalist.
As it can be readily understood, regardless of his complete lack of humour and sensitivity, what Von Trier may have been trying to say – without knowing ‘how to get out of this sentence’ – was that a man such as Hitler is not beyond our imagination. After all, concentration camps themselves speak volumes and volumes about our ‘rational’ and over-productive Occidental logos. Yes, man is evil, and, as written by Primo Levi in The Drowned and the Saved carrying it to the extreme, none of us, not even a concentration camp survivor, can be easily claimed innocent. Hence, although his attempt to escape from an impasse created by himself can be considered as failed without any doubt, Von Trier is very unlikely to be that anti-Semitic monster.
It also seems misconceived to call the director of the brilliant film about the Second World War Europa (1991) a ‘Nazi’. To think, in addition, that for all his life Trier has believed himself to be a Jewish as the son of Ulf Trier – only to discover, in a confession by his mother shortly before her death, that his real father was a German by the name of Fritz Michael Hartmann. “The Holocaust is the worst crime that ever happened. I have nothing against Jews. I have a Jewish name, and all my children have Jewish names,” the director also pointed out in a new press-conference with Danish journalists apologizing repeatedly.
Despite his Nazi jokes being quite rude, it remains a fact that during his now notorious commentary, Trier touched a problem of paramount importance: the complex relationship between arts and politics. Should we stop appreciating work made by incredible artists and thinkers such as Speer, Pound, Heiddeger, Nietzsche, Wagner, and so on, simply because of their wicked and abominable political convictions? Certainly their geniality triggers a big shame in all of us, as we remain wondering how it could be possible to produce beauty when having such devilish beliefs. Maybe Trier was provokingly trying to touch this sorely disquieting issue to make us think about it – even when we would prefer not to. Could it be that the viewer, ravished by the impressive and sentimental shoots of Melancholia – “whipped cream on top of whipped cream”, the director pointed out – forgets that behind the grandeur lies the dark planet of Nazism on collision course: is it the end of the world? Unfortunately, the Third Reich has fed, destroying and staining forever the great German Romanticism but something has left us with a contradicting tangle of emotions: can we peacefully love a cultural background which, notwithstanding its high value, is so compromised by history?
Luckily, the extreme clumsiness Von Trier tried to set an over-burning question up with, creating an outrage without precedent at Cannes, eventually did not cast a big shadow over the movie: in fact, on Sunday, Kirsten Dunst won the Cannes festival’s award for best actress for her terrific portrayal of a depressed bride in Melancholia. And maybe Kirsten herself had the final word about the banality of Trier’s evil: “He’s a great film-maker who, sometimes I feel should let his films speak for themselves”, the 29-year-old star has recently witty claimed to the Mail Online. How can we disagree with her?