The Conversation: Should Lars von Trier Shut Up Forever?

The Conversation: Should Lars von Trier Shut Up Forever?

Oct 06, 2011

Provocative filmmaker Lars von Trier is vowing to keep quiet for good after allegedly encouraging war crimes. The infamous statement  that has already gotten him banned from the Cannes Film Festival, in which the director of Breaking the Waves and the upcoming Melancholia claimed to understand and sympathize with Hitler "a bit," continues to be a huge mistake with unexpected ramifications. From a statement von Trier sent out today, via The Hollywood Reporter:

“Today at 2 p.m. I was questioned by the Police of North Zealand in connection with charges made by the prosecution of Grasse in France from August 2011 regarding a possible violation of prohibition in French law against justification of war crimes,” he wrote in a statement.

“Due to these serious accusations I have realized that I do not possess the skills to express myself unequivocally and I have therefore decided from this day forth to refrain from all public statements and interviews,” the Melancholia filmmaker continued.

As someone who's often had both feet lodged deep in the back of his mouth, I can relate to von Trier's solution. Personally, I just keep to my office, mumble a bit to my wife, but otherwise keep my speech to my fingers, where I can think more clearly before I deliver my words. Fortunately, I don't have to do interviews to promote these words. And really he doesn't have to do press to promote his brilliant films. He's established enough that we'll keep seeing them anyway, and they'll keep on polarizing us.

Then again, I do like the guy's interviews, particularly when he's tactless and/or bold. Right now the persecution he's experiencing is somewhere between Hank Williams Jr., whose termination from Monday Night Football is being demanded, and Jafar Panahi, the Iranian filmmaker who is technically forbidden to make movies (though he can get away with it if he calls the work "not a film"). But in a world where it takes the International Criminal Court more than a decade to get through an actual war crimes trial, an investigation into bad-judgement comments is ludicrous. 

Foot-in-mouth disease may be an epidemic, but getting overly offended by stupid jokes and statements is now a pandemic. Maybe von Trier needs to go make a movie about a Jewish hero, like Mel Gibson is doing

In the meantime, I guess those North Zealand police should extend the investigation to me and most of the bloggers and Tweeters quoted below who think they're making too big a deal out of this: 


To just hear what Von Trier said and shout “HITLER SYMPATHIZER! GET HIM!” is exactly the same kind of intellectual f*cking laziness that gave rise to the Nazis in the first place. They already banned him from a film festival, which is understandable, as film festival organizers would make perfect Nazis. But now you want to throw him in jail? Over a joke he made? To prove how against fascism you are? Does anyone else not see the utter hypocrisy of that? That’s great, maybe we should burn all his scripts and then go over to his studio and break all the windows. - Vince Mancini, Film Drunk

No one will ever accuse von Trier of being subtle on screen or off. And his Cannes comments were absurd, to say the least. But it’s a bit chilling that an ill-advised rant during a film press conference can lead to a police investigation.
It would be just as unsettling if Hank Williams Jr. got a visit from the police for awkwardly comparing President Barack Obama to Hitler. Or, if the makers of “Death of a President,” which detailed a fictional assassination of President George W. Bush, had to worry about the Secret Service rapping on their door. - Big Hollywood

If we keep devouring and digesting people over stupid turns of phrase, we're going to make this a zero-sum game, and no one's going to want to play.  Instead of taking things out of context and blowing them up for cheap page views and momentary kicks, I wish our media would work harder at looking past the surface of things. [...] when a guy whose career has been built on the idea of provocation is making jokes in a press conference and one of them lands wrong because it's just not that funny, hounding him for six months and browbeating him endlessly for it serves no one. - Drew McWeeny, HitFix

Whether or not you believe that the incident has truly scared von Trier straight (and I do), one thing’s clear: In no way could he have imagined that his terrible joke would wreak such havoc on his public image, let alone lead to legal repercussions. But then he’s an artist, and a known provocateur at that, and besides: Why has France taken such lengths to enforce its anti-free speech laws on someone who was clearly just talking out of his ass? - Jen Yamato, Movieline

This really is ridiculous. All of the reports out of Cannes said that von Trier was joking when he made his remarks, and the idea that he "justified war crimes" or "incited racial hatred" (which the police claim) is absurd. If it was reasonable to be arrested for making Hitler jokes, half of the people in YouTube comments sections would be rotting behind bars. - Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

Anyone watching the video of the press conference – anyone with a damn brain, that is – understands that von Trier was kidding, and that he found himself digging a deeper hole with his words, but that he never actually expressed sympathy for the goals or beliefs of Hitler or the Nazis. - Devin Faraci, Badass Digest [Note: Faraci's Fantastic Fest interview with von Trier may be the last one he did before this self-imposed ban]

While I think attacking the man for a joke he made in poor taste is ridiculous, especially "a possible violation of prohibition in French law against justification of war crimes," I do think it's about time he just decided to shut up. - Brad Brevet, Rope of Silicon

Has his lawyer simply said ‘be cool for now,’ so that if this blows over he can go back to being a provocateur? And, more than anything else: an investigation? Seriously? Anyone who looks at the press conference video can see that Trier is making a lame attempt at a joke, and that he’s just just meandering with no malicious intent. - Russ Fischer, /Film

Of course, there’s no telling how long this will actually last: Trier’s compulsion to give outrageous statements and interviews is intrinsically a part of his personality, just like man’s deep-down, inherent Nazi-ness. - Sean O'Neal, A.V. Club

Von Trier made similar but less concrete vows to keep his mouth shut right after the Cannes kerfuffle first exploded. This particular self-imposed gag order may be permanent or it may be the public speaking equivalent of a Brett Favre retirement; at some point down the line, the investigation will end, the controversy will fade away, and von trier might realize he's still got the urge to throw (verbal and political) footballs. As someone who's always enjoyed his unpredictable and outlandish remarks (except when, y'know, they got all Hitler-y), I hope he does. - Matt Singer, IFC News

Lars von Trier can't win! Except that all of this attention probably feels like winning to him. - Richard Lawson, Gawker


@joshbrunsting: This entire von Trier situation has taken away all of my faith in humanity. He's becoming a whipping boy now. Let the guy be.

@KatieWeiss: Lars Von Trier vows silence...too little too late, my friend

@katpeogh: Lars Von Trier isn't doing interviews anymore? #goodidea

@LyndenBarber: Lars Von Trier makes vow of silence. No more interviews or media conferences. About blooming time

@kristapley: We all know full well Von Trier will be doing interviews on the next film...

@sperling: @kristapley Von Trier probably will do interviews for his next film, you're right. Explanation for his reversal I'm sure will be hilarious.

@EricDSnider: If Von Trier had to choose between not making any more public statements and not making any more movies, I wish he had chosen movies.

@steveburgess1: Lars Von Trier to sing theme from Monday Night Football.


Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.

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