Cannes Film Festival: The End of Episode 64

The 64th episode of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival was sprinkled with the usuals of beauty (and Woody Allen) and talent but also of controversy that lead to expulsion.  Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, won the Palme d’Or over 19 other films in the Robert De Niro-presiding feature films competition including Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia.  Kirsten Dunst, one of the stars of Melancholia, won the Award for Best Actress but before the celebration, the Spiderman actress sat uncomfortably with von Trier at a press conference for the movie.  A reporter asked the director of German and Jewish heritage to discuss his interest in the Nazi aesthetic from a previous interview and although possibly trying to liven up the press conference, ended up drowning himself in the waters off of Cannes in the Mediterranean Sea with these statements:

“What can I say?  I understand Hitler.  I think he did some wrong things, yes absolutely but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end.  I think I understand the man.  He’s not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him and I sympathize with him a little bit.  I’m not for the Second World War, and I’m not against Jews.  I am of course very much for Jews.  No, not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass.  But still, how can I get out of this sentence?”

Von Trier also joked that he was a Nazi and criticized Israel.  All his leading lady mustered up was “Oh Lars, that was intense.”  After festival organizers wanted an explanation for his remarks, he responded with “If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize.  I am not anti-Semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi.”  Nevertheless, von Trier lost his accreditation and was expelled by the festival’s board of directors (a first in its history) for “Using the Cannes film festival to say such intolerable things in front of the media is to tarnish its image” said Gilles Jacob, festival president.  He was ordered to remain at a distance of 100 meters from the Palais building, the location of the festival, and was forced to move outside of Cannes but still communicated to the media.  He said that his intention was not to hurt people, and thought the expulsion was a “misunderstanding” and “quite a shock.”  Von Trier also remarked that he acted in a “stupid and unprofessional way.”  As for other attendees and the rest of the world, opinions were split about the decision.

The controversy stirred up by the provocative von Trier may have hurt his chances at winning the Palme d’Or, an award he won in 2000 for Dancer in the Dark with Björk.  Fortunately, Dunst’s win was unaffected, and was both grateful and honored to be recognized despite the chaos surrounding her film’s director.  She did thank von Trier for “giving me the opportunity to be so brave in this film.”

Melancholia will be distributed in the US by Magnolia later in the year.

Synopsis:  Justine (Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) are celebrating their marriage at a sumptuous party in the home of her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland).  Meanwhile, the planet, Melancholia, is heading towards Earth…


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