The Melancholy Dane

I’m slightly staggered that Von Trier has gotten himself banned from Cannes (What does that actually mean? Is it permanent? Will they ever show his filmsagain, or is it just the man himself that’s unwelcome?) for some comments that might certainly qualify as poor taste, but were pretty obviously not intended seriously. Maybe he’s been hoist by his own petard here, because maybe his success in arthouse circles has, all along, been down to the fact that critics and cineastes didn’t know when he was and wasn’t being serious. I’ve often suspected, or else been 100% certain, that Trier was not sincere at all times in his films. It’s been entirely clear that he’s been joking much of the time in his personal statements. But maybe the Cannes organisers think he means everything he says, all the time, completely literally. If not, it’s a bit worrying that they’ve banned him for facetiously calling himself a Nazi: where do you draw the line about what jokes are acceptable to make, and what is the appropriate punishment for making an unsuccessful joke?

Let’s be clear: this wasn’t a drunken Mel Gibson or John Galiano tirade, directed at and intended to hurt specific people. If anything, Trier was insulting himself. He did call Israel a pain in the ass, which is vague but doesn’t seem too severe for a nation whose military are not only routinely slaughtering Palestinian civilians but who may even be targeting children. This was a mildly bad-taste riff intended to provoke a few laughs — not that different from THE KINGDOM or ANTICHRIST, i’d have thought.

It’s political correctness and Lars Von Trier gone mad.

45 Responses to “The Melancholy Dane”

  1. He was Godwinned in real life! Seriously, was he known for making provocative, bad-taste statements?

  2. I think you could say he has past form in that department. They didn’t give him the big prize one year but awarded him a special scroll and he literally threw it across the auditorium. They forgave him for THAT.


    I don’t think that sounds like he means it, do you?

  3. From what I can gather from the news articles, the Cannes organizers don’t know and don’t care how serious he was; they’re jumping the gun to make sure that no criticism can backfire on them. Better to pillory Trier now than to face any suggestion that they were too easy on him.


    “With delegates from the world’s media congregated and eager for controversy, it looks increasingly unlikely the board’s ban will have quite the intended effect. Guy Lodge, from awards site In Contention, suggests it may even give Von Trier career a useful boost, especially following lukewarm reviews for Melancholia itself. ‘This just amounts to fighting stupidity with stupidity – not to mention a little hypocrisy, when Mel Gibson was given the red-carpet treatment only a few days ago. Von Trier will be fine: I’m sure the ever more competitive Venice film festival will be happy to house his future works. If anything, this just proves his remarkable ability to remain the centre of attention.'”

  4. I’m a HUGE supporer of “Policical Correctness”





  5. As for Von Trier (Europe’s answer to David Mamet and Neil Labute) if it weren’t for Jean-Marc Barr and Udo Kier I wouldn’t watch his films at all.

  6. Political correctness is, at heart, a commendable attempt to refer to people by the terminology they themselves prefer, and treat everyone with equal respect. I don’t think the term “political correctness” is a very good name, but the thing itself is an absolute good. Like anything else, it can be applied stupidly or lazily, which I think is the case with Cannes, who are just trying to make sure they don’t look bad. The fact that the film is still in competition shows how little in earnest they are.

    I would never use the inane cliche “political correctness gone mad” without some irony, don’t worry.

  7. “Political Correctness” began as a joke leftists made about each other, that was taken up with a vengeance by the Right to denounce ANYTHING that ANYONE on the left might say or do.

    It’s really just that simple.

    France is extremely sensitive to anything Holocaust-related these days. I’m sure I don’t have to remind anyone of L’affaire Galliano. He’s being taken to court. This has inspired the Usual Suspects to yammer about “Freedom of Speech” (a total myth, BTW.) Wish we had that in THIS country. LOVE to see Andrew Breitbart hauled away in a “Perp Walk.”

    Anyhoo the whole Von Trier business will pass with the festival itself — only to be recalled on select occasions where people who should know better yammer about “Freedom of speech” (the only speech worth freeing being that of fascists.)

  8. I don’t think it likely at all he meant it. Judy’s right, organizations will go crazy about such things. Sort of like the not-long-ago firing of a USDA official, using a doctored video as evidence. I would fault Von Trier for not being smart enough to see how it would be viewed by the Cannes authorities.

    David E.: Me too! I’m indignant how treating others as equals and with respect was smeared with the epithet “political correctness”.

  9. Is any of this too much of a surprise? He certainly likes baiting journalists, and they certainly played their part to the hilt, with Ms Dunst as the object of desire being obsessed over (I’m expecting a Jeffrey Wells e-mail to be sent to von Trier’s producers asking for pictures from the porn shoot!) And the journalists seemed to heartily enjoy the “typecasting Udo as a homosexual” stuff! And the ‘Keifer Sutherland’s got an alcohol problem’ stuff! Strange what pushes people’s buttons, or what does not!

    He wasn’t articulating it very well (he is the only director whose press conferences turn into Kafkaesque nightmarish trials of circumlocution with him as the befuddling, mumbling Josef K!) but the start of all that he was responding to a rather leading question about his German roots and the Nazi aesthetic talking seemingly bitterly about finding out that he was a “second rate Jew” due to his heritage, and that worse finding out his German heritage forced him to confront the idea that some of the easy, brush stroke values of ‘Nazi’s’ he might have held could be applied to himself.

    I take his comments to be more about identity and the brandishing (and taking pleasure in) taking on a certain role that is both liberating (from responsibility from your actions, because your just fulfilling what is expected) and reductive (because you can’t show another, more nuanced side). That’s been a major theme in his films as well.

    And the Bier comments suggest a rather bitter recognition of the way that director uses Dogme stylings and issue-tastic plots simply as a kind of commodified set dressing – the Iraq war, Indian orphanages, African refugee camps are interchangable in the world of her films. Only the Danish upper-middle class remain a regular central of her universe (except in that Halle Berry film, of course!)

    Especially from Europa on (which is apparently the film that he was making when he ‘learnt the truth’ about his Jewish heritage. Although The Element of Crime features the crimonologist professor and investigating officer taking on the role of killers themselves in order to prove their theses about the identity of the mysterious killer. And Images of A Relief takes a Conformist-inspired plot about total betrayal of trust) there is about the fluid transition from victim/investigator to torturer/person of action, and that the most pathetically victimised characters can be in the position of the greatest power to wreak their own vengeance (or to right wrongs, but only to their own ends), as well as the interdependence of seemingly diametrically opposed groups. There is a rather sadomasochistic element to be noted from many of the encounters in his films. Especially when the victim starts identifying themselves as such and this identification becomes a ‘defence’ for their actions in response.

    Hey, it could have been worse. He could have called himsef a French banker! It does take two to tango. One to provide the set up and the other to take a stance of feigned outrage in response and spread the ‘shock news’ wider

  10. There are all kinds of restrictions on freedom of speech including libel laws, so I don’t think hate speech can be held as an inviolable right… But this is a case where we’re being asked to believe that the significance of the words used is more important than the meaning intended. I don’t believe that.

  11. If von Trier had actually had an intended meaning, it would be easier to argue for its supremacy over his words. But it sounds like he was just babbling.

    Expulsion (whatever that means here) for von Trier versus a standing O for omnibus racist and violent misogynist Mel Gibson: one could make the argument that this is allowance for the obviously mentally unstable versus accountability for someone who masks the willful refusal to think, speak, and act like a grownup with a veneer of “transgressiveness.” I mean, apart from anything else, the wide-eyed discovery of the virtues of “Nazi aesthetics” is sub-sophomoric; it’s freshmanic — and how old is this guy? Maybe he just needs a nice tumblr account.

    But the contrast actually seems more like two sides of a silly coin, so I won’t make that argument.

  12. John Seal Says:

    Mr. Ehrenstein is right. I can remember the first time I heard the term ‘politically correct’, sometime in 1981 or ’82. I’d just started working in Berkeley and heard someone sneeringly refer to the tenets of the Revolutionary Communist Party and its seemingly immortal leader Bob Avakian as, well, you know what.

    It is shatteringly obvious that Von Trier was not being serious. And yes, I also wonder whether it’s a permanent ban, and whether it also extends to his films. Gosh, while you’re at it Cannes, why not ban his fellow travelers–er, cast and crew–as well?

  13. judydean Says:

    According to today’s Guardian he followed these remarks with the statement that Kirsten Dunst had insisted on being filmed naked for Melancholia and “now she wants more. THAT’S HOW WOMEN ARE, and Charlotte is behind this. They want a really hardcore film this time, and I am doing my best. They said ‘We don’t give a shit about the dialogue, we just want to have a lot of very, very unpleasant sex’ and that’s what I am writing right now.”

    I don’t care whether he’s serious or not, whether he’s taunting journalists or not, I find him objectionable either way. I swore after ‘Breaking The Waves’ I wouldn’t watch another von Trier film and this only strengthens my resolve.

  14. I was talking to Lars about the ban today:

    He said, “Let’s say, for instance, I want to go in the restaurant which happens to be IN Cannes, to get one of those sandwiches I like?” And I said, “Forget it. You can’t even set foot in the parking lot. That’s how serious it is.” It just didn’t sink into his head.

  15. yay ! JudyDean I’m with you ! Breaking the Waves inspired me to oganise an event around ‘nationalism’ in films about scotland. One participant said that after watching BTW they wanted to declare a cultural reserve ! however for me the sexual / gender politics of it really turned my stomach.

  16. “he is the only director whose press conferences turn into Kafkaesque nightmarish trials of circumlocution with him as the befuddling, mumbling Josef K!”

    Okay, full disclosure, this is what actually happened. I’d prepared a very carefully typewritten speech, about seven pages long, that expressed empathy with Hitler, denounced Israel, praised Albert Speers, and absolutely crushed Suzanne Bier, among other things. I wanted Trier to deliver it but the only time our paths would intersect was the evening before his press conference, in a bar where he was getting completely blotto on akvavit and some kind of industrial bonding paste…anyway, long story short, he somehow convinced me, in my inebriated state, to EAT all seven pages of my speech, but assured me that he had condensed it to its most salient points by writing them out on a cocktail napkin – with his finger. Seeing the video of the press conference, it’s clear to me he didn’t understand anything I was trying to say.

  17. I’ll bet if Mel Gibson had transcribed the old Oberammergau Players’ Passion Play straight to film (somewhere in the back of my head I hear Herman Bing saying, “I’m the Judas!”) and called it a film, they would have done nothing to him as long as he mouthed the right platitudes (“historical importance”, “Christian heritage”, and whatnot) and turned on the charm.

    As for Von Trier, I’m sorry for him. Sorry he’s so stupid.

    Say, maybe he can do a phony act of contrition! It works for politicians.

  18. What “charm”? Have you seen the box offcie figures for The Beaver?

    Mel is OVAH!

  19. [quote]According to today’s Guardian he followed these remarks with the statement that Kirsten Dunst had insisted on being filmed naked for Melancholia and “now she wants more. THAT’S HOW WOMEN ARE, and Charlotte is behind this. They want a really hardcore film this time, and I am doing my best. They said ‘We don’t give a shit about the dialogue, we just want to have a lot of very, very unpleasant sex’ and that’s what I am writing right now.”[/quote]

    That quote came very near the start of the 40 minute press conference – there was no chance for any follow up after the “I’m a Nazi” comments, after which the interviewer cut things short

    There was also some earlier banter about typecasting Udo Keir in his films as a homosexual, and that apparently the heirarchy of drunken actors on the film was: Kiefer Sutherland, then Stellan Skarsgaard. The press seemed to be quite amused by this stuff – strange what pushes certain people’s buttons and what is deemed acceptable…

  20. The full press conference is available on the Cannes web site by the way, so you can get the full thing straight from the horse’s mouth with there being no need to quote the Guardian’s misinterpretations. But don’t let that stop you. :)

  21. any one seen the latest issue of Popbitch? v charming VT story

    humm perhaps the Cannes people were just annoyed by Von Trier… you know turning up late…eating more than his fair share of the buffet… too much porn charged to room…

  22. What about typecasting Colin Firth as a homosexual? He’s played one twice you know.

  23. Mel is happily on the downslope of what’s left of his career now, but I meant “charm” as an artificial geniality and warmth. I could have easily chosen a better word, but when I write fast, I’m not very articulate.

  24. Arthur S. Says:

    I think this over-reaction on the part of Cannes is in poor taste, on their behalf and not Von Trier’s. At the end of the day, I am more a Cannes supporter than a Von Trier supporter. They are giving unearned notoriety to a false peddler. In the old days, Cannes hellraisers included actual movies and later actual artists like Rossellini and Godard, now Von Trier has made it post-modern, signs without meaning, forms without substance, yada-yada.

    I agree with David E. about “freedom of speech”. This reminds me of that godawful cartoons incident. In the wake of the protests and violence sparked in retaliation, anyone who pointed out that the original cartoons were racist and had vicious intent was looked at as if they were supporters of fascism. And of course it happened in Von Trier’s nationality.

  25. judydean Says:

    So (colinr) we are to revise our opinions because he made his offensive sexist remarks before, and not after, he made his offensive racist remarks?

  26. Whew! “That was intense!” as Dunst put it.

    It seems to me that LVT is portraying himself as the world’s biggest asshole in a would-be jocular way, like the celebrities who parodied themselves on the Larry sanders show, but with greatly inferior material. Of course, that doesn’t in any way mean he’s NOT the world’s biggest asshole, but I would base such a verdict on his films, which he supposedly means sincerely, rather than on his facetious comments.

  27. Christopher Hitchens is the world’s biggest asshole. David Mamet is second. Von Trier is tied with Neil LaBute for third place.

  28. david wingrove Says:

    As revolting as von Trier’s behaviour has been (and I say this as someone who LIKES some of his movies) perhaps we should stop and remember what Cannes is actually about.

    For all its ‘high art’ gloss, the Cannes Film Festival is primarily an exercise in marketing…drumming up publicity for films that might otherwise have limited popular appeal.

    Is it just possible that von Trier knew precisely what he was doing in making such outrageous statements? He was trying to turn a potentially uncommercial movie like MELANCHOLIA into an international succes de scandale – and seems to have succeeded all too well!

    None of which makes the incident any less disgusting. In my view, the depths of calculation and cynicism on show make it all infinitely worse.

    Still, I’ll probably go and see MELANCHOLIA. Partly because I’m curious about von Trier’s work, wildly uneven though it is. Also because I never pass up a chance to see Udo Kier or Charlotte Rampling.

  29. Hitchens at least has a better command of rhetoric than LVT. What he uses it for is what makes him such a king-sized asshole.

    Sadly, Gibson has bounced back before and may yet do so again, if not as star then as director. Between Mad Mel and LVT, I’m not sure which is better qualified to use an insanity defense… for ages I was expecting Gibson to claim demonic possession.

    Jaime… LOL.

  30. Mel could remake Bedazzled with himself and Jodie Foster.
    Robert Downey Jr. could play “Lust.”

    Of course somethings cna’t be improved upon

  31. Indeed.

    Jodie’s friendship with Mel is going to jeopardize her ability to make that Leni Riefenstahl bio she keeps threatening us with.

  32. Maybe she could cast Mel as Pope Pius XII! Arnold Schwarzenegger (I read years ago in Spy that he collected Nazi pieces) as a member of the Nazi high command! It could be the funniest film in years, not that she would intend it so.

    It would make considerably more sense for someone to do a big-budget Hollywood film about Alice Guy.

  33. Isn’t it Madonna’s turn to make a fool of herself over Leni Riefenstahl? You know she’s going to.

  34. Now that Madge is separated from Guy “that guy” Ritchie, maybe she should direct it herself? It’s kind of striking that she’s never shown any interest in getting behind the camera… or, in fact, doing anything other than perform.

    Mel as Pope is the best casting idea I’ve heard in years, though. LVT to direct!

  35. Actually it could help. She’d play Leni and Mel could play Adolph.

    Typecasting I know.

  36. Or Mel directing The Leni Story

    Apocalypto had a certain Reifenstahlian flavor- especially late Leni in Africa, but in general too.
    my imagination fails me for titles…

    Always felt Triumph resembled Universal Horror films of that time, like Karl Freund had a doppelganger who didn’t leave Germany.

  37. You know about the “Where’s Waldo?” moment in Apocalypto, right?
    (If not:
    Seems to me the Nuremberg Rallies would provide the ultimate opportunity for a Waldo cameo.

  38. thanks-did not know about that!

  39. No, he gets a pass because his a jew failing in making a nazi joke at the same time trying to talk about his appreciation of the nazi aestetichs and architecture, while at the same trying to say something about humans inherited evil that under the right circumstances can turn everyone into another nazi or another Hitler. Therefore, understanding Hitler is understanding the human species and the evil that lurkes within us.

    That subject is basically what all of Von Triers movies are about.

    As he said himself, “all people have 5% nazi in them and all nazis have 5% human in them”

    That was his point which he failed so miserably to deliver, before trying to get out by using humor which apparently didnt help much.

  40. He’s talked before about the trauma of discovering that he wasn’t actually Jewish, and he’s been articulate and interesting on the subject. Feeling deprived of his status of belonging to the innocent victims, and feeling he had no right to feel deprived. It’s interesting, and he has an unusual perspective to offer. He just kind of blew it, and the atmosphere of crude vulgarity he’d set up didn’t make this a good venue for discussion of weighty themes.

  41. david wingrove Says:

    David, I hate to break this to you…

    Madonna is actually directing a big-budget biopic of Wallis Simpson, aka “the lowest of the low” (so said the Queen Mum) aka. the Duchess of Windsor. Note that she’s not playing the lead role, for which she’d be entirely suited, but has cast a young UK actress called Andrea Riseborough.

    How big a disaster is this going to be? Well, I’m sure Madonna knows nothing at all about film-making, but she knows nothing about singing or acting either and that never stopped her.

    What she does know is WHO TO HIRE. A strange instinct tells me that W.E. (as it’s been titled) will be a roaring success.

  42. It’s true, she might get by just by surrounding herself with the best talent available. On the other hand, how can one explain her previous films if we’re going to credit her with an unfailing instinct for choosing collaborators? Specifically, how do we explain Swept Away?

  43. H. mankell Says:

    jews targeting children – Same Old Story, Happens only in Bad Israel – welcome to the Club, Cairns

  44. 1) It’s irrelevant what their religion is.
    2) I didn’t say it’s happening in one place only.

    There are undoubtedly atrocities committed on the Palestinian side too. In fact, since that side operates using terrorist tactics, the illegality is already taken as read. The point is more that the western tendency to see Israel as “the goodies” is oversimplistic and does not help us get closer to peace.

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