In (Semi) Defense of Lars Von Trier

The above photo perfectly sums up my reaction to Lars Von Trier’s latest outlandish remark.  You have Charlotte Gainsbourg looking bemused while Kirsten Dunst can’t believe what she’s just heard.  The man who proclaimed himself to be “the best filmmaker in the world” two years ago at Cannes has said something even more outlandish and controversial.  During the press conference on Wednesday for his film Melancholia, playing in competition, Von Trier said the following: ““For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew, then I  met (Danish and Jewish director) Susanne Bier and I wasn’t so happy. 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.”

Trying to dig himself out of what he said only made him fall farther into that hole when said, “I don’t mean I’m in favor of World War II and I’m not against Jews, not even Susanne Bier.  In fact I’m very much in favor of them. All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain in the ass but…”

This was enough to not only draw the ire of his lead actress Dunst, who moments before had praised Von Trier as one of the few directors who makes film about real women, but also the Anti-Defamation League, the whole twitter-verse, and eventually the Cannes Film Festival, who banned Von Trier on Thursday.

As a Jewish person, I feel I have the right to share my thoughts because this does affect me.  As bizarre and upsetting as his comments are, the response by some people and Cannes’s choice to ban him is overreacting.  First of all, Cannes is about the art and not about the person behind the art.  Cannes is playing a film starring Mel Gibson and we don’t have to go into his recent personal struggles with alcoholism right now.  Second of all, you need to listen to how Von Trier said those remarks and the context that he said them.  I have listened to that press conference and he was clearly joking. Yes, he put his foot in the mouth and he should apologize, which he has, but he wasn’t trying to be offensive.  This is Lars Von Trier after all.  He talks out of his ass on a daily basis and by giving him this attention, people are just playing into his game.

I highly doubt Von Trier is an anti-Semite, given the fact that he has worked with a number of Jewish actors and actresses including his current muse Charlotte Gainsbourg.  Gainsbourg’s dad Serge Gainsbourg was a survivor of Nazi Germany during his childhood, and forced to wear a yellow star when he went out in France.  Charlotte’s partner, whom she has two children with and is expecting another, is French-Israeli actor/director Yvan Attal.  My guess is that Gainsbourg, while bothered by Von Trier’s comment, wouldn’t hesitate to work with him again in the future.  In fact, according to an article in THR, Gainsbourg told Von Trier that her “father would have been proud of you.”

Being Jewish, I find something like The Reader to be far more offensive.  This is a film with no other ambition to win awards and is an anti-Semitic film disguised as a serious film that deals with the Holocaust.  That is offensive, not some director who is known to speak out of his ass saying something really dumb.

It’s a shame too because up until that comment he had been quite funny, charming, and self-deprecating.  It was by far the most entertaining press conference of the festival.  One comment can take that all away.

What Lars Von Trier said was stupid, there’s no doubt about it. But let’s not put him on the same level as a true anti-Semite like disgraced fashion designer John Galliano.  I suggest you watch for yourself before making a judgement.

Josh Youngerman




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