When you're a filmmaker who's known for his dark and warped sense of humor, then you have to expect that sense of humor to come back and bite you in the ass one day. That day was today, 24 hours after Lars von Trier joked about sympathizing with Hitler, being a Nazi and not really liking Israel at a press conference for his new film Melancholia (read his 10 most controversial comments over at Vulture). The director later apologized for his statements, and said he was joking, but that wasn't enough. Today, in an unprecedented move, the festival banned him for his remarks, according to the New York Times. Here is the fest's official statement:
"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 Festival’s Board of Directors, which held an extraordinary meeting this Thursday 19 May 2011, 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."
That's a pretty big deal, especially considering the fact that von Trier has been somewhat of a darling of the festival for years and up until that point Melancholia was an early favorite to take home the fest's top award, the Palme d'Or. The festival says that the film will remain in competition, but if it wins anything von Trier will not be there to accept the honors.
The comments came during an extremely odd press conference in which Von Trier also spoke about shooting a hardcore porn with his Melancholia co-stars Kristen Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as his follow-up project. The controversial filmmaker was clearly having a bit of fun with the Cannes press by turning the question and answer period into a Nazi-loving circus, but unfortunately (or fortunately) the festival didn't get the joke.
As much as you want to wag your finger at the notoriously uptight European festival and tell them to relax and welcome a little bit of controversy since it brings in a lot of press, it's hard to sympathize with von Trier here. Yes the guy was obviously joking, but you don't joke about things like that on a stage that big (and grand). You just don't do it. Sure, you may think these press conferences are a joke -- and that the press are a joke -- but then pull a Terrence Malick and don't show up. Let your work speak for itself. But if you insist on speaking for your work, then do so in a manner that doesn't insult most of the world.
Some folks are calling the festival hypocritical for parading around Mel Gibson -- an actor well known for his anti-Jewish remarks -- during a premiere of The Beaver, and enjoying all the "controversial" press that comes along with that sort of act. But the difference here is that Gibson didn't insult the festival or anyone else during the festival. Could they have accepted von Trier's apology and gone on their merry way? Yes. But they wanted to make a point, and they wanted to do everything they could to maintain the fest's prestige and respect. A slap on the wrist may open the door for folks to assume the festival also sympathizes with Hitler, and they just didn't want to deal with that sort of nonsense, which is understandable.
Von Trier may not actually sympathize with Hitler, but I don't sympathize with Von Trier. If anything, though, maybe he can host the Golden Globes this year ...