The press conference after the screening of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia at Cannes yesterday gave little insight into his film, where the Danish helmer turned everything into a sarcastic joke.
In the process, he poked fun at his two leading ladies claiming his next project would be a porn film with Kirsten Dunst (who immediately said “no”) and Charlotte Gainsbourgh. The two actresses, clearly nervous, smiled and laughed away the alleged film that Von Trier kept on bringing up, but by the end of the press conference they both had tired faces. The mood of Dunst and Gainsbourg seemed to quickly shift to somberness in the last five minutes when he told the audience he was a Nazi, but by this time the actresses had already been worn down by his previous ribs.
Melancholia will be in limited release in San Francisco on May 27.
Lars Von Trier is known for this kind of thing. His final project from film school was about a dirty old man in a raincoat who enters a room with a nurse. Björk who was in Dancer in the Dark refused to speak to him after it was made. And although he tried to get Nicole Kidman to be in a sequel to Dogville as part of a trilogy (Dogville 2003, Manderly 2005 and a yet begun Wasington), there is no indication she will return. Last year his film Antichrist was about a women’s study professor who is burned as a witch by her husband (Willem Dafoe). Charlotte Gainsbourg won best actress at Cannes for the role.
Von Trier’s films Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Manderly, Antichrist and Breaking the Waves can be rented at Le Video, San Francisco’s largest collection of international films.
Melancholia is about depression and the end of the earth. The title addresses not only emotional and spiritual malady but also the name of a huge 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, and is special for this film”, said Von Trier.
Kirsten Dunst who plays Justine said that coming out of depression makes you stronger and noted how her character got tough at the end of the film. Von Trier volunteered that she had “knowledge of depression”, wondering if that was OK to reveal. Gainsbourg who plays Justine’s sister Claire remarked, “we are not women, we are Lars”, and saw nothing different from men and women experiencing depression.
Dunst said she became friends with the director on the set, whereas Gainsbourg after three films says she does not know him well. Von Trier interjected “well I know you from every angle”, not missing a beat on a relentless commodification of the women in this film. Gainsbourg nervously laughed.
When Von Trier was asked what he thought about the completed film, he remarked, “I got carried any with Wagner and it got romantic, so I rejected it”. He then added, “Maybe its crap. There might be a possibility that it really is not worth seeing”. On the other hand he admitted that it was worthy of the Palme d’Or.
Dunst spoke of Von Trier’s way of working with long takes of five minutes and compared them with fragmented shots on other movie sets.
What you see on film is what you get with a Von Trier film. John Hurt explained, “we don’t rehearse, we switch into characters”.
Von Trier said he tried casting the openly gay Udo Kier as a homosexual in Melancholia and that the performance was fantastic. “I don’t know where you get it from?” he jested.
Though Von Trier could not say for sure if he was going to finish his alleged trilogy he brought up the porn film again. Both actresses smiled and snickered like the characters from the embarrassing wedding reception scene from Melancholia.
A journalist wondered, given the film’s content, if Von Trier though it was pointless with life?
“Oh yes,” replied the Danish director, but couldn’t elaborate.
“Why aren’t you making comedies?” asked another journalist, clearly taken by Von Trier’s attempts at humor. ”This was a comedy, you don’t want to see a tragedy “, he replied.
The only solution in the film, pointed out one journalist “was the magic cave”, an open enclosure surrounded by wooden sticks that Justine carves with Claire’s young son Leo while they await the end of the world.
In response, a monologue followed about the light of art cinema, how Tjarkovsky made him cry, and how because of the holy ghost, Eastern church was different from the Western Catholic preoccupation with suffering and the crucifixion.
“If a film can bring this light, the other side of life, I am going to exploit it in the porn film”, said Von Trier.
When asked about his new photographer Manuel Alberto Claro, who uses an annoying and excessively shaky camera, Von Trier claimed Claro enlightened him on how women have to be younger and younger in film and get naked.
As for his own depression, he claims, “I over passed my melancholia, stopped drinking, reading books, and became boring like everybody”. But, philosophically he was against not drinking. Then looking at Stellan Skarsgård who plays Justine’s egotistical employer, he brought up how Kiefer Sutherland (Claire’s husband) and Udo Kier (the wedding planner) did a bit of drinking on the set.
On the artistic prelude of Melancholia which has been praised by film critics, Von Trier spoke about how the spectator of this film will see it to the end, “thinking there is a chance you will survive”. He thought it was interesting to be clear what the end of the film will be from the beginning, “although you still sit with feeling and hope”.
His said his influences were German and pre-Raphael paintings, Antonioni, Tarkovskij and Smiles of a Summer Night (Ingmar Bergman, 1955). He described himself as a German romantic.
The last two questions at the Cannes press conference went from annoying to beyond belief. I suppose you could blame it on the journalist who wondered about his German roots and the gothic aspect and Nazi aesthetic of his films she claimed he had spoken about in the past.
Von Trier launched the following address:
“For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew. Then I met Susanne Bier (Danish director who is Jewish that won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in February) 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.”
Von Trier then fumbled to get out of the hole he crawled into: “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…”
“I understand Hitler, he did some wrong things, and I see him sitting in the bunker at the end. I understand the man, not a good guy, I sympathize with him, not for the war. I am not against Suzanne Bier. (How can I get out of the sentence?”)
But he couldn’t and he didn’t. He said he liked the art of Speer, Albert “not one of gods’ best children. Ok I’m a Nazi”.
The final question was would he work on a grander scale?
“We Nazis, we try to do think on a great scale, maybe you could persuade me to do the “final solution” with journalists…”
It was certainly an attack on professionals from all over the world reporting on a film that bears no resemblance to the uttering’s of a Danish middle-aged melancholic. Von Trier was duly banned from the festival afterwards though his film may remain in competition.