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“As they say in the old country, Oy vey, gevalt!” said the British publicist for Melancholia, succinctly capturing the exasperation everyone connected to Lars von Trier‘s latest film feels after the Danish director’s now-infamous comments at the Cannes Film Festival, in which he jokingly called himself a Nazi and said he “sympathized with Hitler, a little bit.”
The quips set off a firestorm that led to Cannes officials banning von Trier from the festival, though his film remained in Competition and won Kirsten Dunst the best actress trophy. The Anti-Defamation League condemned him, and Melancholia‘s Argentine distributor said it would not release the film.
Von Trier has based his career on shocking both audiences and the press. But European cinema’s favorite enfant terrible might have finally gone too far.
“I know it will be harder now to get financing and to get the actors I want,” von Trier admits to THR.
The director has always been able to attract A-listers to his difficult, often disturbing films; actors are drawn to his ability to eke out powerful performances. Von Trier has cleverly cast the likes of Nicole Kidman (Dogville), Willem Dafoe (Antichrist) and Dunst to give his pictures wider appeal and to secure bigger budgets.
But it’s doubtful whether stars will risk being linked to von Trier in the immediate future. The director says emphatically that he “is definitely not Mel Gibson” and denies accusations of anti-Semitism. But the taint remains.
So far, many of von Trier’s business partners are sticking by him. Melancholia‘s distributors in the U.K., France and Germany have no plans to drop the film.
“You have to separate what Lars said from the movie, which we think is one of the great works of European cinema,” says Markus Zimmer, managing director at Melancholia‘s German distributor, Concorde. “His comments are just Lars being Lars. He loves being the agent provocateur. But the film is not offensive at all.”
U.S. distributor Magnolia — which, in addition to Melancholia, picked up von Trier’s next project, a collaboration with Martin Scorsese, just hours before the fateful Nazi remarks — has declined comment. Scorsese reps did not respond to requests for comment.
Von Trier, at least, isn’t worried about his career.
“It’s a pity about the damage this has done to the film and a pity if it has hurt the Cannes Film Festival at all,” he says. “But as a filmmaker, I thrive on obstacles. If the obstacle now is I can’t raise as much money and I can’t go to Cannes, maybe that’ll be a good thing for my movies.”
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Jon M. Chu