By Moira Sullivan.
“He likes to run his mouth … I think he dug himself in a deep hole today.” Kirsten Dunst.
The press conference on May 15 with Lars von Trier after the screening of his film Melancholia in the Cannes Official Competition gave insights into the workings of the director’s mind, not the film. It is clear that the Danish helmer does not like the press and turned every question against the journalists asking them. But he also doesn’t seem to respect women by constantly taking liberties in speaking on their behalf. There has been a lot of discussion about the comments which led him to being banned from the festival this year, but no one has really taken to him to task about what he said before the final two questions which took up five minutes of the press conference. The entire session lasted 45 minutes.
In addition to his thoughtless comments about Hitler, Jews and being a Nazi, he declared his next project would be a porn film with Kirsten Dunst (who immediately said “no”) and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The two actresses smiled nervously and laughed away jokes about the alleged film that von Trier kept on bringing up for 40 minutes until he launched into his German commentary. What do actresses need to do to stay endeared to their helmer? In this case, Dunst and Gainsbourg had to tolerate, albeit with forced good humor, relentless comments on this porn film. By the time he launched into his standup about Germans and Jews, the actresses had already been worn down with his raw sense of humor. The line had to be drawn somewhere to realize this is not funny and it was made in the last five minutes. Disrespect to women, Jews and Germans is one in the same.
“When accused of misogyny, filmmakers employ classic techniques of neutralization, concentrating on denials of injury and condemnations of their condemners. However, a few acknowledge having created movies that demean women, in which case they usually point out compensating virtues”. King, Neal. “Spinning Misogyny: Filmmaker Defenses Against Charges of Deviance”
The claim that von Trier writes “great parts for women” is not altogether true. You might recall one of von Trier’s student films about an old man who is a sex addict and preys on a young woman. Last year Charlotte Gainsbourg played a woman who was burned at a stake for being a women’s studies professor in Antichrist. She said mother Jane Birkin was her biggest support on the set. For this, she won the best actress award at Cannes. Emily Watson allows herself to be sexually used by men at her husband’s suggestion who wanted to hear all the details. Actually, women don’t seem to hang around von Trier for long, great parts or not. He doesn’t have a stable of regular actresses like Bergman or Woody Allen. Where is Emily Watson? Björk from Dancer in the Dark refused to speak to him at Cannes, and although he begged Nicole Kidman at the 2003 Cannes press conference to be in a sequel to Dogville as part of his so-called new trilogy; she has yet to return. I can guarantee you that Gainsbourg and Dunst won’t be back after this year. An interview with Dunst at Cannes yesterday was canceled by the Rothchild-owned Mouton Cadet Wine Bar, which didn’t want to be associated with von Trier. She was not welcome, said the owners. Who needs this reaction after working hard on a film for months? Fortunately Kirsten Dunst was awarded the best actress at Cannes but had to add “thank you Cannes festival for keeping the film in the competition.”
Melancholia is about depression and the end of the earth. The title addresses not only an emotional and spiritual malady but also the name of a planet that is rapidly approaching earth and is on a fatal collision course.
“Melancholia is a good title used many times, in all art that I like and is part of all good art. It has to do with longing, which is special for this film,” said the Dane.
Well, we are longing for Lars von Trier to grow up. We are longing for him to get as real as his pictures. A real spirit-mind connection.
I link this stupid YouTube video, which illustrates that beneath Lars von Trier’s comments about Nazis and Jews, disrespect for women is considered funny. It must also be added that no one seems to care about this, as the YouTube video illustrates, which ridicules women to make its point. No one is going to kick von Trier out of Cannes for that. That kind of humor is accepted and invisible. Cannes is known for film “art” where women are tortured, burned or used: Irreversible, Brown Bunny, Antichrist. Often these films are singled out for awards.
The first question at the Melancholia press conference was about the female characters played by Dunst and Gainsbourg. Dunst said that coming out of depression makes you stronger. Von Trier interrupted to mention Kirsten’s “knowledge of depression” (“Can I say that? Otherwise forget it”). Gainsbourg hit the the spot, “we are not women, we are Lars”, and saw nothing different from men and women experiencing depression. Oh, but there is. Especially since a depressed von Trier is clearly very different from how actresses interpret depressed women.
Dunst said she became friends with “Lars”, whereas Gainsbourg, after three films, says she does not know the director very well at all.
In response to this “rejection” “Lars” added, “Well I know you from every angle”. Gainsbourg laughed nervously.
Though von Trier could not say for sure if he was going to make the so far unproduced Wasington, he said he had plans to make a porn film. He claimed that Kirsten asked for the “beaver” shot in Melancholia, and now she wanted more.
“Charlotte is behind it. I said there would be lots of dialogue, but they both replied, ‘We don’t give a shit about the dialogue’. So there will be a lot of unpleasant sex, a hard core film. Three or four hours long so I can sleep a little longer for the press conference”.
When asked about the “magic cave” in the end of the film, von Trier launched into a monologue about the differences between Eastern and Western religion. The Western approach he called the “orchid” school with its emphasis on suffering and the crucifixion. He was all for the Eastern “orthodox” approach that believes in the holy spirit:
“If a film can bring this light, the other side of life, the light side of planet earth, the holy spirit side, I am going to exploit it in the porn film. The Eastern church is very important”.
Orgasms would also be “very important in the porn film but they would all be fake, except Charlotte’s”, said the Danish melancholic. He explained that had to do with two ways of acting. “French” and Kirsten’s style in Spiderman. Dunst reminded him that he used webs of lace and yarn in Melancholia.
Von Trier announced that he had changed his photographer for Melancholia (Manuel Alberto Claro), who taught him that women must be younger and younger and get naked in today’s films.
“Now they are going to be naked and extremely young.”
Von Trier won’t officially be around this year at Cannes anymore, but it’s almost guaranteed that he will be back with his porn film The Nymphomaniac next year, and all will be forgiven. But the Danish filmmaker already knows this. He actually did not leave Cannes after his ban and hung around the periphery to give interviews to apologize for his German remarks. In his apology he didn’t mention anything about getting out of line about his porn film. Von Trier claims he won’t give any more press conferences. In exonerating himself, the world was able to see who is really is, a man with the social graces of a toad.
Moira Sullivan has a PhD in Cinema Studies from Stockholm University. She is a freelance film critic based in San Francisco and a member of FIPRESCI (International Critics Association) and the European Critics Association.