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Lars von Trier

As if to demonstrate a certain French flair for convolution, the Board of Directors of the Cannes film festival yesterday evicted Lars von Trier from their affair for words uttered during a press conference for his newest film, Melancholia. Famed as a bad boy of the present-day cinema circus, Mr von Trier, whose film evidences an acquaintance with German Romanticism, said predictably bad things, as is expected (and even desired) of him.   The bad things had to do with Jews, Hitler, Nazism.  They were said with a kind of smirk, and clearly not very seriously.  However, in a fit of transparently bad conscience, the mandarins of Cannes gathered and declared the Dane persona non grata, revoking his accreditation, and sending him into exile from the august and always ever so serious world of cinema.   Part of the bad conscience comes from a now-aging internal conflict in France regarding collaboration with the Nazi’s, the Vichy regime, and the numerous instances of famed French cultural and political figures, as well as common “people”, who claimed to have resisted, or such, and were found not only to have not resisted, but to having partook and then lied about it.  The political atmosphere of France has been poisoned by this reality ever since the close of World War Two.  As noted by the Cannes eviction notice, in the land of  liberté, égalité, fraternité, it is illegal to utter words which are “anti-Semitic.”  This illegality again suggests that old bad conscience, and perhaps a consciousness that such an inclination still runs rampant through French culture.  These days it is often filtered through sentiments against other “outsiders” such as the colonial natives who have moved to the “motherland.”  Curiously many of them are…. Semitic.   Not that it matters.  Let people legally speak their prejudices and who knows what might come out!

Curiously while the Very Important People who run the Cannes Festival have seen fit to cast the gloomy Dane into the purgatory of exile, I’d take a side-bet on their attitudes regarding another current French matter of deep concern – the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in America – would be one of horror at his treatment at the hands of the NYPD, perp walk, and, well, actual arrest.    Not too long ago, after long years sheltered by France, Roman Polanski, accused of rape, sodomy etc. of a 13 year old girl long ago in sordid Hollywood, walked the red-carpet at Cannes to great applause.   And then there’s that Cannes (and Venice) favorite, America’s own Woody Allen who …  well, let’s not get into that story.   It would seem Gallic morality has some cosmic wormholes that permit certain things, but not others.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the dock looking nervous in New York

Back in New York, the drama of the moment continued with Dominique Strauss-Kahn in court for a get-out-on-bail hearing which after a fashion went his way:  basically a house-arrest with electronic anklet, armed security at the door, and perhaps a bit oddly, a contractual paper saying that should he just happen to be in France or elsewhere, he’d waive extradition rights.  Hmmmm….

Back on the Croisette, where starlets, lurkers, critics and others gather in May to make their genuflections to the altar of the 7th art, the thundering shallowness of the wonderful world of cinema was in full display.   The grand names, and lesser, rolled out their wares, from Pirates to porn to sometimes serious art unfortunately shown in the same context.  Critics – seldom able to restrain themselves – boo and hiss, or applaud rapturously, and wield their pens as stilettoes, ever eager to slip one in.   Here for example is the New York Times critic Manohla Dargis today, doing a nasty aside while lauding Jafar Panahi, in a note on his This Is Not A Film:

“He also describes a movie that he wasn’t allowed to make, about a young woman who hopes to attend university, using masking tape to illustrate the planned set. These lines of tape on the floor echo the sets Mr. von Trier used in “Dogville,” a Brechtian look at terror that was here in 2003 and now rings even more hollowly next to Mr. Panahi’s anguished movie.”

Jafar Panahi in This Is Not A Film, apparently done on cell-phone

Well, take that Lars, and stick it in your ear !   I am not, myself, a von Trier fan, finding his films rather over-worked and their “provocations” a bit too obvious, nor do his antics amuse me.  But Manohla’s kicking-a-man-while-down is, well, unseemly, but to my passing acquaintance, all too typical of most critics.

Von Trier goes Germanic Romantic

Caspar David Friederick

On a happier note vis a vis Cannes, some weeks ago I saw a short film by a quite young Korean filmmaker who had contacted me not long after I arrived here, 4 years ago.  I don’t know why she did so, but I got these DVDs in the post, and gritting my teeth in anticipation of the usual, I found myself happily surprised at the film  sent, a 10 minute short, Mysteries of Nature, which unfolded.  When I found out it had been made by someone 19 years old I was rather blown away.   Seeing other films of hers only confirmed this sense.   So seeing her newest film about 6 weeks ago, another short, again very good, Ghost by title, I promptly contacted someone in the Cannes hierarchy, asking if they could overlook the long passed deadline, waive the submission fee, and take a look.   They said yes, and yesterday it showed in the official short film competition.    As she had been having a hard time getting anyone in Korea to give her the time of day, I thought a little catapult into the glitz of Cannes would turn some heads – which it did even before she’d left for the festival.  Now if she wins something all the better, though I suspect just being there will go a long way to getting her some support in the form of money and interest.  I hope so.  She deserves it.

From Dahci Ma’s Ghost

I have another story about this year’s Cannes, but to spare someone a bit of something, I’ll keep it to myself.


  1. Mr. Jost,

    As always, you’ve managed to cut towards the truth of the situation. I formerly thought very high things about the Cannes Festival. But this year I find myself very jaded about the state of art in films, especially when the purported festival of artistic world cinema is allowing such Hollywood films like Pirates of the Caribbean to play in its walls even outside of competition.

    Of course, what should I expect? Last year Tim Burton was the head of the jury at Cannes. This year Robert de Niro is the head. Both David Lynch and Tarantino have a Palme D’Or, so I don’t even know what the quality of that prize is anymore.

    We live in a strange state of film, with seemingly no outlet for truly artistic cinema. Perhaps I’m just being overly jaded, but it sounds more difficult than ever to be an independent minded filmmaker, and to say real, truthful, important messages. Of course, maybe it’s always been this difficult.

    • I guess I’ve been jaded a lot longer – Cannes was always the 2nd nexus of the glitz glamor and $$$$ of the film biz (the first being the Golden Dildo awards in always classy Hwd), though because in Europe and they talk foreign there, so it is imagined it must be art. And just as in Hollywood, once in a long while some sneaks through the gate. However Cannes (I was there once as guy-with…) is a really tacky affair that brings out the worst in everything having to do with the filmbiz. Tacky people, tacky morals, tacky aesthetics. The movies are 99% about falsity, illusion, fraud. It attracts people attracted to those qualities (including, and perhaps especially, within themselves). So, as it were, what you see is what you get. The likes of a Tarkovsky or such are very few and far between. Meanwhile the place doesn’t go near anything not-narrative, which should tell enough about the blinders worn.

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