Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cannes 2011: Lars Von Trier crashes and burns?

Lars Von Trier, one of Cannes most regular visitors, was presenting his new film yesterday, Melancholia, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland. And with the Danish director in town, controversy is never far away. Since his latest offering featured no "intimate" mutilation or controversial scenes of any kind, he had to go and create one by declaring himself a nazi at the press conference, with all the glee of a five year old uttering his first swear word. And in what turned out to be a first for Cannes, the board of Directors of the festival decided to ban him today.

Lars Von Trier about to make a big mistake

I am still not sure whether it means he is banned forever, and just this one time, which would not mean much, as cast and crew are only invited to stay three nights by the festival. He would however miss the ceremony and would not be able to pick up a prize (the film itself has not been disqualified).

Looking at the press conference in full, it is obvious this was just an extremely cheap and juvenile shot at controversy more than anything else (having also declared he would love to make a four hours hardcore film with his two leading ladies). Not that it excuses the poor tastes of his outburst. Not quite comfortable with English still, he is just mumbling, making no sense at all, it sounds like he just says the first thing that came out of his mouth. The most interesting part of this is Kirsten Dunst reaction, watch her closely. She seems to be collapsing deep inside while keeping a composed face, not quite believing what is happening before it starts sinking in. (video courtesy of The Telegraph)

I have always found the Danish director to be both fascinating and irritating in equal measures. And indeed his films have always left some some very polar reactions, which makes each of his new film so unpredictable. I still hold Europa (1991) as one of his best works, at a time where he seemed more preoccupied by experimenting with film rather than shock. As well as I admire it, Breaking the waves (1996) left me cold and I appreciate I am not in the majority with this. The idiots (1998) was as futile as the Dogma movement itself (although I would never forget the glacial silence that greeted the impromptu and very graphic orgy scene when I saw it at the Cannes film festival that year).

Dancer in the dark (2001), despite winning the Palme d'Or, was guilty of emotional blackmail as far as I was concerned, but at least it gave us the great story of Bjork pushed to her limits by the deranged Danish director (not that she is a model of sanity herself, bless) and proceeding to eat her own dress out of pure rage on the set (if only that scene had been included in the film).

Antichrist (2009) was a return to form and my second favourite film of him. Yes it was provocative, slightly random, perceived as mysoginist by some (even though I felt it was the other way round) but what a film, inventive, unexpected, with some striking images and a winning turn from Charlotte Gainsbourg (rightly rewarded by a best actress award in Cannes).

Which leads us to Melancholia. When it was announced that he was making a sci-fi movie, I was excited at the thought of his take on full on sci-fi, with spaceships, ray-guns, or possibly something in the tone of the recent Solaris remake. Sadly the sci-fi element is more subdued with the story set during a wedding in a country house while a planet is on a collision course with Earth. Interestingly it seems a lot more similar to The tree of life than one might expect. Both deal with a family story in the shadow of a event of cosmical proportion (The formation of our world and the end of it).

And just like The tree of life, the film has received some very contrasting reviews. Obviously, it is very likely the controversy is going to affect its chance. But all I have read about it so far, even the bad reviews, have certainly wetted my appetite for it. I can just imagine doing a double bill The tree of life/Melancholia and coming out of it feeling rather mystical.

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