Cannes: Snub for Lars Von Trier and 'The House That Jack Built'?

Lars von Trier - 2014 Nymphomaniac Photocall - Getty - H 2017
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The latest from the provocative Danish director, starring Matt Dillon as a serial killer, was not among the official lineup announced Thursday, but the festival hinted it could still add the movie at a later date.

Sorry, scandal-fans: Lars von Trier might not be coming to Cannes.

The always-controversial Danish director, who was banned from the Cannes festival seven years ago for jokingly saying he “sympathized with Hitler,” was widely expected to return to the Croisette this year with his new film, The House That Jack Built.

The buzz around the movie — which stars Matt Dillon as Jack, a serial killer who goes on an uninterrupted 12-year killing spree in the U.S. in the 1970s and early '80s — was strong. Von Trier and the film's producer, Louise Vesth, had hinted they were targeting a Cannes release. There were even reports of a thumbs up from Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux.

But von Trier's The House That Jack Built was not among the titles announced Thursday when Cannes unveiled its official 2018 lineup. Fremaux, however, left open the chance that it could be added at a later date. "We'll know in a couple of weeks, I hope so," said Fremaux close to the end of the press conference announcing the lineup on Thursday, raising the prospect that von Trier's latest could follow the likes of Ruben Ostlund's The Square, which was a a late addition to the 2017 lineup, and went on to win the Palme d'Or.

Insiders who have seen footage from The House That Jack Built describe scenes of extreme brutality and violence, comparing it to von Trier's graphic, controversial Antichrist, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe.

For lovers of cinematic scandal however, and for fans of his brand of extreme art house, if von Trier doesn't make it to Cannes, he will be missed. The 61-year-old Danish director could always be counted on to shock and provoke but his movies left a lasting impact on Cannes critics. And Cannes Juries. In 1996, von Trier won the Grand Jury Prize for Breaking the Waves. In 2000, he took the Palme d'Or for Dancer in the Dark, with Bjork winning best actress. Both Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst won best actress in Cannes for von Trier productions: Gainsbourg for Antichrist in 2009 and Dunst for Melancholia in 2011.

Von Trier and Cannes will also forever be linked to the press conference the director gave for Melancholia. Responding to an innocuous question about his German roots, the director stumbled into controversy. 

“For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew,” he began, “But then I found out I was actually a Nazi. My family were German. And that also gave me some pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler … I sympathize with him a bit.”

It was all downhill from there. “I don’t mean I’m in favor of World War II and I’m not against Jews,” he continued, “in fact I’m very much in favor of them. ... Well, Israel is a pain in the ass but …”

As Melancholia stars Dunst and Gainsbourg, sitting on either side of Von Trier, stared at him agog, the director paused: “Now how can I get out of this sentence? OK. I’m a Nazi.”

The reaction was swift. Hours after the gala premiere of Melancholia, Cannes declared von Trier persona non grata.

The issue took on a legal dimension when French authorities, acting on a formal complaint filed against von Trier, investigated the director on suspicion of inciting anti-Semitism, a crime in France. The case was dropped and no charges were laid, but von Trier took a public “vow of silence” and stopped talking to the press. A vow he only dropped in 2014, following the release of his two-part sex epic Nymphomaniac. For the Berlin premiere of the film,  von Trier cheekily posed with a T-shirt emblazoned with the Cannes logo and the words “Persona Non Grata.”

Cannes had signaled it was ready to welcome von Trier back into the fold. Fremaux even officially lifted the personal ban.

So von Trier fans, don't give up hope just yet.