It can't get much worse for Lars von Trier, but somebody might need to let the mercurial director know the time for games are over. The film world is still rocking after the filmmaker's statements yesterday at this year's Cannes Film Festival where he began a long diatribe that found him sympathizing with Hitler. Today, the Cannes Film Festival effectively banned him from appearing 100 feet from the Festival's red carpet or Festival Palais because of his inappropriate remarks.
In case you some how missed it, the always controversial filmmaker (he previously proclaimed himself "the best film director in the world" at Cannes in 2009) shocked both his leading lady Kirsten Dunst and the assembled press with this statement.
Von Trier said, "For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew. Then I met 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. 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…”
You can watch video of Trier's statement and Dunst's shocked look here.
Von Trier later said he was just having fun and trying to be "entertaining" at the press conference. After worldwide outrage, the Festival was not amused issuing this statement:
"The Festival de Cannes provides artists from around the world with an exceptional forum to present their works and defend freedom of expression and creation. The Festival's Board of Directors, which held an extraordinary meeting this Thursday, 19 May 2011, profoundly regrets that this forum has been used by Lars von Trier to express comments that are unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity that preside over the very existence of the festival. The Board of Directors firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars Von Trier a persona non grata at the Festival de Cannes, with effect immediately."
Obviously not realizing this might be a good time to stop talking to the press, von Trier told Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, "I'm proud to have been declared persona non grata. This is maybe the first time in film history that has happened."
He only made things worse by adding, "I think one of the reasons is that the French themselves treated the Jews badly during the Second World War. Therefore it is a touchy subject for them. I highly respect the Cannes Festival, but I also understand that they are very angry with me right now."
And in case you're keeping score, the film's premiere party was canceled and its Argentinian distributor has already said it won't release the film in that country.
Of course, you can certainly argue that Cannes overreacted a bit to von Trier's behavior with the ban (Mel Gibson who wasn't joking with his now infamous statements is in town with 'The Beaver' and free to roam the croissete), but the filmmaker has to take some responsibility for his actions. And that price might be a difficult distribution road in the U.S.
Before the press conference, "Melancholia" was considered a strong contender for the Palme d'Or (don't think that's happening now) and had critic's such as Lisa Schwartzbaum of EW calling it a "masterpiece." Variety's Peter DeBruge found the film "mind-blowing" and a "marketable combination that brings spectacle to the arthouse" (marketable and von Trier have rarely been used in the same paragraph). HitFix's own Drew McWeeny praised the film and many see Dunst's acclaimed performance as a breakthrough in her up and down career. In fact, she would be a prime best actress candidate for her work if von Trier hadn't played the shock you game with the world's press.
Now, the film has a press-friendly cast consisting of Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland and "True Blood's" Alexander Skarsgard and impressive visual effects, but it's hard to see any major American distributor wanting to touch the project after this week's events. An art house film such as this is a risk for any distributor, but with an unrepetant (or semi-repentant) von Trier in the wings it's a much bigger financial risk. It would be shocking to see Fox Searchlight, Focus Features, Lionsgate or even Sony Classics, shingles with major media companies or loud stockholders behind them making a bid. And it's hard to see even a gutsy Weinstein Company jumping into such dangerous fray. IFC Films took a shot at one of von Trier's more controversial films (at least at the time), 2009's "Antichrist." Will they do so again?
No matter how "Melancholia" gets to U.S. shores, and it will in some form, don't expect anyone to announce it for quite a bit. Von Trier might not be playing the publicity game very well, but any acquisition deal won't be revealed until all of this mess had quieted down. Assuming of course von Trier can keep himself away from a reporter's microphone.
[Update: "Melancholia" is actually currently set for distribution by Magnolia Pictures. However, there is no word whether that deal will stand after this week's past events. The question is whether they can bring the film to theaters successfully under such controversy. In many ways, it only makes the story more intriguing.]
For Drew McWeeny's review of "Melancholia" from the Cannes Film Festival, click here.