UPDATE (19 MAY): If Lars Von Trier's bizarre black humour was meant to cause a stir, it worked: Cannes organisers have banned him from the festival. Organisers have released the following 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.
His film Melancholia is still eligible for the Palme d'Or but Von Trier won't be welcome to collect his trophy in person, should it win on Sunday.
ORIGINAL POST: Human headline Mel Gibson avoided speaking to the world’s media before taking to the red carpet with director Jodie Foster at The Beaver’s premiere last night. Foster fronted the press conference with writer Kyle Killen and executive producer Keith Redmon but said of Gibson: “He won’t be talking... but he is here.”
Gibson had excellent cause to be nervous about having his film overshadowed by his very public personal problems, because Foster was besieged by questions about the parallels between the chemically depressed lead character, and Gibson’s own public meltdowns. Nonetheless, had Gibson fronted and said something that might have set back his process of public contrition, he’d at least have company, given some particularly stupid statements made in the interests of self-promotion that have marked the mid-point of the Cannes Film Festival.
It might be mid-week madness but foot-in-mouth-itis seems to have set in; in the space of a few hours, Lars Von Trier (pictured) ‘did a Gibson’ and made bizarre and inappropriate jokes about admiring Hitler and Albert Speer, and Peter Fonda made casual inferences about shooting “fucking traitor” President Barack Obama, for inaction and alleged deception in relation to efforts to clean up the Gulf Of Mexico oil spill.
Fonda emanated an ‘angry old hippy’ vibe, (“I am a fish,” he offered) in fronting a press conference for The Big Fix, an eco-documentary in which he stars and backed as executive producer. The advocacy film examines the root causes of the oil spill, and alleges entrenched corruption and collusion with a ‘powerful and secretive oligarchy’ has purposefully hampered the clean-up effort.
Co-director Josh Ticknell made impassioned statements about his disappointment with President Obama’s response to the spill – in particular a misleading, staged photo op that incorrectly suggested the Gulf was safe to swim in. Co-director Rebecca Ticknell knows all too well that it’s not; she contracted ‘chemical pneumonia’ from exposure to toxins during the shooting of the film that have rendered her unable to withstand any exposure to the sun (she has a parasol permanently at the ready here in sunny Cannes).
However, Fonda’s choice of words suggests that he too, could benefit from less time in the sun. The veteran actor and marine life advocate undermined the best efforts of the directors to discuss the core issues at play in the film. On the Government’s decision to allow BP to handle the clean-up efforts, Fonda singled out President Obama for being a “fucking traitor for allowing foreign boots on our soil” and said: "I'm training my grandkids to shoot long distance”. When pressed to elaborate, Fonda half-heartedly backed away from advocating an assassination attempt but his thought process wasn't very clear.
"I won't say [aiming] for Barack Obama because then I could get caught for calling for violence against the President of the United States... It's more a thought process than an actuality. There's going to be a big confrontation in this world between the haves and the have nots. It's coming pretty damn soon."
Von Trier’s own slip-up made for a weird end to an otherwise entertaining press conference, during which the Dane cracked wise about his downbeat new film, the aptly-titled Melancholia.
The gloomy film centres around a lavish wedding staged in the lead-up to a cataclysmic disaster, and Von Trier was in a playful mood, suggesting that for all its chances of taking home the Palme d’Or in the official competition, the film could well be “crap”. “There’s quite a big possibility that this is really not worth seeing,” he offered.
Von Trier was virtually doing stand up for the duration of the press conference, joking about his next project being an extreme hardcore porn film with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst (the stars of Melancholia), and ribbing his male stars and frequent collaborators Stellan Skarsgard and Udo Keir, about having drinking problems.
Perhaps sensing that all of this joviality risked denting his self-styled reputation as the enfant terrible of cinema, Von Trier then went dark with jokes about religion (“I thought I was a Jew for a very long time, but then I found out I was a Nazi and that gave me great pleasure”). When he continued with more of the same (“I can understand Hitler…”, “I am very much for Speer”), Von Trier brushed off a visibly uncomfortable Dunst’s attempts encourage him to tone down the talk. He stressed that he was “getting to a point,” though judging from the quizzical looks on the panel and in the crowd, all were in consensus that he never arrived at one. Unsurprisingly, the Lars Von Trier Variety Hour wrapped up shortly thereafter.
Before things went pear-shaped, the chuckles had prompted an obvious question about why Von Trier’s funny disposition doesn’t extend to his films. “I have tried to write comedies,” he replied. “But they become very melancholic.”
As indeed do his press conferences.