Controversial Director Says Something Controversial, People Shocked for Some Reason

photo of nazi von trier picture cannes pics

On the off chance that this is the first time you’ve heard of this story, or if you simply skimmed a couple of headlines and never either watched or read all of von Trier’s “controversial” pro-Hitler rant, here it is:

The only thing I can tell you is that I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew, then later on came Susanne Bier, and suddenly I wasn’t so happy about being a Jew. That was a joke. Sorry. But it turned out that I was not a Jew. If I’d been a Jew, then I would be a second-wave Jew, a kind of a new-wave Jew, but anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi, because my family is German. And that also gave me some pleasure. So, I, what can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things but I can see him sitting in his bunker. I’m saying that I think I understand the man. He is not what we could call a good guy, but yeah, I understand much about him and I sympathize with him … But come on! I’m not for the Second World War. And I’m not against Jews. No, not even Susanne Bier. I am very much for them. As much as Israelis are a pain in the ass. How do I get out of this sentence? Okay, I am a Nazi. As for the art, I’m for Speer. Albert Speer I liked. He was also one of God’s best children. He has a talent that … Okay, enough.

Cannes then banned the director, but not before asking him to issue the following apology:

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.

First of all, to quote Avenue Q, everyone’s a little bit racist. But really, Cannes? You’re surprised that a man who wrote and directed a film called Antichrist, and who used his own experience with a depression to write and direct his newest film, Melancholia, might stir up controversy at your press conference? You don’t kind of think that he was hoping for a big reaction and that, by banning him, you’ve probably upped all the press this little indie film was ever going to get by tenfold? von Trier himself has said as much, arguing that being banned from Cannes might free him creatively, but also that he feels his banning shouldn’t mean that his films should also be ignored by the film festival which should always be more about art than politics — though the heavy irony of that sentence was undoubtedly intended.

Here’s the thing: I’m not defending von Trier. I think he said something stupid on purpose and was looking for attention — some of Kirsten Dunst’s murderous looks while he was talking were fantastic. She was pissed that he was sabotaging this for the sake of some flashy press, as she should be. The comments were hateful, disrespectful, irresponsible but also… lazy. I mean, what was the point? Apart from stirring up controversy. Because it feels like the Holocaust is the go-to for instant shock value and it’s just kind of… stale. This kind of cheap joking goes on in high schools and Universities all the time with wild-eyed white boys hoping to get a shocked giggle in response to some lame anti-semitic joke. And it’s clear that that’s all von Trier was doing — trying to tell a cheap joke.

In sum, I think Cannes was wrong to ban von Trier — make him apologize, sure, but don’t act like this was something more sinister than an immature man desperate for attention trying to build some notoriety for what is, according to many reviewers, a rather slow and boring film.



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13 thoughts on “Controversial Director Says Something Controversial, People Shocked for Some Reason

  1. Totally agree with you. He knew that mentioning Hilter and nazis would push buttons and everyone played right into his plan. He’s an idiot for doing it and the press are a bunch of idiots for falling for it. There are genocides happening right now, and the press doesn’t give a shit. I think that’s a much bigger tragedy than some ‘edgy’ director making a statement purposely intended to shock people regarding a genocide that happened 50 years ago. Women are being raped, children are being starved and killed, and we can’t seem to bring ourselves to care. But someone mentions Hitler and we freak out. I don’t get it.

  2. So he was allowed to sit and the adults’ table and he made a giant mess to get attention, and you don’t know why they made him go sit at the kids’ table?

  3. I hate the idea of “making” someone apologize. I feel like that’s somehow contradictory. If someone is truly sorry, they shouldn’t have to be “made” to apologize. On the other hand, if they aren’t truly sorry, than an apology doesn’t mean sh*t, and anything that comes out of their mouths when they are “made” to apologize can’t be taken seriously.

    To continue my rant, I hate it when people do this to kids. When they make the kids say they’re sorry “like you mean it,” even if it’s not the case that they do. What are they teaching the child? That by saying you’re sorry “like you mean it” you can get out of the consequences for your actions? Now, I don’t really know what the alternative would be as far as child-rearing, and maybe making your child say they’re sorry is the best bet (and maybe they learn actually to BE sorry eventually), but it still rubs me the wrong way for some reason.

    • From personal experience (as the kid, not the parent), being forced to apologize is actually the worst punishment you can be given, especially in early adolescence. When you already know you’ve done something wrong, having to look the person you’ve wronged in the eye and admit it and say you’re sorry for it is embarrassing and evokes intense guilt. For young people who care very much about how others see them, this is the height of discomfort and most kids would rather do just about anything. So it’s not really about teaching your kid to give insincere apologies, it’s about showing the kid that you have to own up to your actions, and that if you don’t like the consequences you shouldn’t be doing things to hurt others in the first place. I agree with your point about adults though; this tactic works on kids and teenagers because their identities and sense of self haven’t been fully formed. It just doesn’t work the same way for an adult, and like you say, it’s impossible to take seriously because the person isn’t apologizing out of his/her own volition.

  4. Shannon, I think you’re right that with some kids, especially those who “already know” what they’ve done is wrong, making them apologize can be a good tactic. But I’ve met too many people (mainly students), who have not come away from this brand of discipline knowing what’s right or wrong, but rather have come to learn that saying you’re sorry is how you get out of things. My brother-in-law, for example, is thirteen years old. He is a little monster (despite the fact that he should have grown out of it by now), and he constantly does hurtful/inconsiderate things. If you complain about it, he says he’s sorry. His family accepts this and moves on, since that’s what they think is an appropriate response to these matters (apparently not really caring whether or not he’s sincere). A couple of times, though, I’ve asked him, “why are you sorry?” And he couldn’t tell me. At thirteen years old. So, yes, I think in general it makes sense to use this tactic with kids – it certainly worked for me – but I think sometimes it ends up missing the point.

    • We see this in narcissistic adults as well, who do things that hurt others, apologize, and then complain when ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t make everything suddenly better.

      • Yep…the other thing that grabs me is when someone will say “Yes, I know, but……Always trying to justify their actions with a but.

    • Harriet, you are so right on this. What Shannon is saying is true when a kid knows what he did is wrong. I know so many kids now that do something wrong then think by saying sorry everything is forgiven. Nothing has been learned except lip service.

  5. I agree with the characterization of the comments as “lazy.” Holocaust comments are to controversy as poop jokes and penis jokes are to humor.

  6. Guy thinks because he an “artiste” he can say shocking stuff and play the “artiste” card. Sorry. These things shock because well, they’re shocking.

  7. Can someone explain to me why this was deemed offensive?

    I seriously hope more than Von Trier understands Hitler or is trying to understand him. If not, then we havent learned anything from our past. You know, Hitler was a human being, not an evil cyborg beamed up from hell.

    And you also know that Hitlers rise to power was supported by a whole nation and many countries incl. USA earned a wast amount of money dealing with Nazi germany before the war erupted.

    If we do not try to understand Hitler the human and the people who supported him, the mechanisms that made all this possible it wont be long before we end up in similar situations incl. another holicaust.

    And seriously, if we look at todays wars and crimes against humanity, have we then really learned anything?

    Lars Von Trier was indeed very clumsy at that press conference but if you have seen his films and knows his career, you will understand that he is one of the biggest critics of fascism in cinema and also has a very thick irony.

    Btw. if anyone has seen his film “The Idiots” then you would know exactly what he was doing in that press conference. At least one can’t help to wonder.

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