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Danish director Lars von Trier has once again proven he can still put the terrible in enfant terrible. At Wednesday’s press conference following the first screening of his new film Melancholia, his comments about being a Nazi and “sympathizing” with Hitler went too far even for the legendarily tolerant Cannes Festival, which took the highly unusual step of declaring von Trier a persona non grata, banning him from the Palais and putting a
permanent black mark on von Trier and his new film. The Hollywood Reporter’s German Bureau Chief Scott Roxborough spoke to von Trier shortly after the Festival announced the ban.
The Hollywood Reporter: You were just declared a persona non grata by the Cannes Film Festival. How do you feel about that? After all, virtually every one of your films has screened here.
Lars von Trier: Well if they think it’s necessary, then OK. I accept that. It’s a pity because (Jewish festival head) Gilles Jacob is a close personal friend of mine. What I said was completely stupid but I am absolutely no Mel Gibson. I am absolutely not Mel Gibson. When I said what I did about Hitler, what I meant was I could imagine what it was like for Hitler in the bunker, making plans. Not that I would do what Hitler did. But it’s a pity if it means I will lose contact with Cannes and it’s a pity if it hurts the festival or if it hurts the film.
THR: Are you getting any support from your colleagues at this time?
Von Trier: Film colleagues never support you. They wouldn’t have supported me no matter what I said. But I am getting a lot of support from my family and friends. My daughter called me and said “Dad, that’s what family is, you
support them whatever they say.”
THR: You’re planning to do your next film, The Five Obstructions, together with Martin Scorsese. Have you spoken to him yet and is the project in danger because of what’s happened?
Von Trier: No I haven¹t spoken to him yet, but Martin is very open minded, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem.
THR: What will the ban mean in practice?
Von Trier: I’m not allowed to go within 100 meters of the Palais. So I can gaze down at it from afar but I can’t go in.
THR: Will your future films also be banned from competition?
Von Trier: I don’t know, because this really hasn’t happened before. But I hope not because even if I was Hitler, and I must now state for the record I am not Hitler but even if I was Hitler, and I made a great film, Cannes should select it. And I have to say I’m a little proud of being named a persona non grata. I think my family would be proud. I have a French order. Now they will likely tear It off my chest.
And maybe there is something positive about all this. Because before this Cannes I was really worried the festival wouldn’t accept my film. Because it might not be what people expect of me. And if the Cannes Festival is having
any influence on how I make my films, maybe it’s good if I’m banned. I like obstacles. If the obstacle is I’m not going to Cannes, maybe that’s a positive thing.
There was something that Gilles Jacob wrote in his book that I still haven’t forgiven him for. We were talking about it the night before (the press conference). You see the first time I was in Cannes, I wore a leather jacket on the red carpet. And Gilles said in his book ‘the first time he wore a leather jacket and by the third time he was in a suit, so this shows how all rebels eventually come into the fold.’ I saw that and I thought, arrgh! I thought for the next film I should make a porno, so they couldn’t accept it. Though they’d probably still do it.
You know, I’m 55. Maybe this is a mid-life crisis. I got my first tattoo (the letters f-u-c-k on the knuckles of my right hand). I’m prouder of this tattoo than I am of the film.
THR: What did your kids say about the tattoo?
Von Trier: My son said “Dad, do you know that doesn’t come off?” Just what parents usually say to their kids.
THR: Do you think maybe you said these things at the press conference because, subconsciously, you wanted to be free of Cannes?
Von Trier: I don¹t think I’m that clever, even subconsciously. And I can say I’m free now, but of course I’m not. Because I know this could mean it will be harder now to get financing and to get the actors I want.
THR: Speaking of actors, have you spoken to Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg? At the press conference, they seemed shocked by what you were saying.
Von Trier: I don¹t think Charlotte was shocked. Her father (singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg) was known for being provocative. She said to me ‘my father would have been proud of you.’ And Kirsten? I just think Kirsten sees me as very European and crazy.
THR: It’s ironic in a way because this film, Melancholia, isn’t controversial at all.
Von Trier: No, it’s not controversial.
THR: Were you in part then worried that the Cannes audience would be disappointed, because this wasn¹t a typically, shocking Lars von Trier film?
Von Trier: Maybe. It sounds strange but I don’t like conflict. When I went into the press conference I felt like I should entertain people there. And I know everyone comes to see what crazy thing Lars is going to say. And then I
started a sentence which I couldn’t get out of. At the time I didn’t think much about it. Everyone seemed to understand and there was laughter. It’s only afterwards, when you read it: “I sympathize with Hitler” that I thought
THR: Are you worried this controversy will cloud the reception of the film? Already the Argentine distributor has said they won’t release Melancholia there.
Von Trier: Yeah, don’t cry for me. I don¹t know. If that’s the case, it would be a pity. Because it would make it harder raising money or getting certain actors to work with me. But then maybe that’s interesting if I can’t do such big films, maybe that would be interesting.
THR: What makes you happy?
Von Trier: Half a year ago, I would have said a bottle of scotch but after the Melancholia shoot I stopped drinking. Now I’m reading a lot. If you asked me what makes me happy now I’d say the feel of the pages of Marcel Proust. I’m on volume five of his In Search of Lost Time and I’m being really inspired by how he describes things. How can you take 100 pages to describe a room? I think film right now is too plot driven, it just bumps along. What I find so inspiring about the novels of Proust or Thomas Mann is how they rise up to these mountain tops where you can see everything and then you go down into the valley and it¹s not that interesting but you have to slog through that valley for a long time before you rise up again to another mountain peak.
Another thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is the difference between the Eastern and the Western Christian churches. And how the Eastern church was more the church of the body and the light. That¹s something I feel when I read Mann or watch an Andrei Tarkovsky film, that it is like talking to the holy spirit.
THR: Melancholia itself is very spiritual. Many are comparing it to Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life because it addresses similar themes, about the life and the universe.
Von Trier: Really? That’s interesting. I haven’t seen his film. I’d like to. But I can’t get in the Palais.
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