The post-Melancholia press conference this morning was going swimmingly. Maybe too swimmingly. The stars (Dunst, Gainsbourg) were there, members of the fine supporting cast (Hurt, Kier, Skarsgård) were there, and von Trier was there, looking sporty and happy in a simple black T-shirt. He jovially fielded questions about the artists who inspired him while he was making the movie (Wagner, Breugel, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, Bergman) and about whether or not he was happy with the film: “I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s crap. Of course, I hope not. But there’s quite a big possibility that this might be” — he pauses — “really not worth seeing.” I can assure you he’s wrong there, but never mind, because then von Trier hurled a bottle rocket.
Late in the press conference, after von Trier spoke eloquently about the nature of sad stuff in art (“Melancholia is in all art that I like, and I’m sure it is part of all good art”), and explaining that his latest film is not as much about the end of the world as it is about “a state of mind,” about “longing,” English film critic Kate Muir asked a question about his German heritage. Von Trier then steered the press conference in a whole new direction — maybe onto a whole new planet.
“I think I was a Jew for a long time,” he said. “I was very happy being a Jew.” Then, after making a sly reference to fellow Dane filmmaker Susanne Bier, who often speaks candidly about her Jewish identity in interviews, von Trier announced that even though he always really wanted to be a Jew, he discovered that he’s really a Nazi. “Which also gave me some pleasure,” he added.
“What can I say? I understand Hitler,” he continued. “I think he did some wrong things, absolutely, but — I can see him in his bunker in the end.”
“What can I say? I understand Hitler,” he continued. “I think he did some wrong things, absolutely, but — I can see him in his bunker in the end.” The roomful of journalists sat, stunned. It appeared that von Trier, who seemed to be in jolly good spirits for a notoriously depressive Dane, intended this as an joke, albeit an ill-advised one. But how was he going to dig himself out? He added that Hitler was “not what you would call a good guy” and babbled further, explaining that he’s very much “for” Jews. “All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain the ass.”
Von Trier knew he was in a pickle, and asked aloud, “How do I get out of this sentence?” But there was more: When one last journalist asked von Trier if he considered Melancholia to be his Hollywood blockbuster, he replied, “We Nazis tend to do things on a great scale.”
The joke fell flat, but by that time von Trier’s indiscreet chatter had been eclipsed by the thundercloud of disbelief and disapproval on Dunst’s face as she sat on the director’s left, listening to his increasingly loopy rambling. During the press conference, Dunst had given every indication that she’d enjoyed working with von Trier, who has a reputation for making his actresses miserable. In this case, maybe, he pushed her goodwill too far. Von Trier embarrassed himself, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he alienated Dunst for good. Every press-conference attendee loves a freak show — we’re all looking for great copy — but this one ended on a note that was just weird and sad. Melancholic, even.
UPDATE: Lars Von Trier has apologized for his statements at Cannes. “If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize. I am not antisemitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a nazi.” Click here for more, including a statement from the Cannes Film Festival. [via Deadline]
RELATED: Stephanie Zacharek’s review of Melancholia
Read more of Movieline’s coverage from Cannes 2011 here.