Like Ficarra and Requa’s 2011 comedy Crazy Stupid Love, Focus begins promisingly and bops along enjoyably for a while, only to run out of steam…
... and Germans and Jews and Albert Speer and Susanne Bier, etc., at the post-"Melancholia" press conference at the Cannes Film Circus. The quotations I've seen in print have been fragmentary and/or inaccurate, and understandably can't convey tone. This isn't the whole press conference, either, but, for the record, it should give you a better idea of how the thing actually unraveled, and how it played in the room. It's excruciating to watch somebody flounder and dig himself in like this (how much of it is meant to be a provocative joke? a perverse publicity stunt? an artistic confession?), but from this angle you can also see Kirsten Dunst squirm in mortification. She and the moderator try to interject and rescue him, but he won't give up.
To me, it appears he has some vague idea of where he's going (something about understanding the worst in human nature, perhaps?), but gets hopelessly lost on the way there -- until, in apocalyptic Von Trier fashion (hey, he just made a movie about the end of the world), he throws up his hands and drops the bomb in a desperate attempt to dissipate the gathering tension by saying exactly what everybody is fearing (or hoping) he'll say... And what was the question again?
UPDATE (05/19/11): The festival has now declared Von Trier "persona non grata," though what that means is not entirely clear. Ben Kenigsberg of Time Out Chicago reports from a post-press conference gang-bang interview with von Trier:
"If any of you would like to hit me, you're perfectly welcome," he told the assembled journalists as he took his seat. "I must warn you that I might enjoy it."
That broadside was a joke, of course, and a good chunk of our time consisted of Von Trier's apologies for his "stupid" remarks. "I'm known for provocations, but I like provocations when they have a purpose. And this [Von Trier was initially responding to a journalist's question] had no purpose whatsoever. Because I'm not Mel Gibson. I'm definitely not Mel Gibson." He then talked about his visits to concentration camps.
"I think the Holocaust is the worst crime against humanity that I can remember," Von Trier says. Of why his remarks have blown up into a controversy, he says, "I believe that it's an especially delicate subject down here, because the French have a history of being extremely cruel to the Jews."
Way to tamp down that controversy, Lars.
Von Trier also (re-)explained what he was saying. When he jokingly said yesterday, "I am a Nazi," he points out that it started in a discussion of his investigations of his heritage. For many years, he thought he had Jewish roots, but later found out that his real father was another man, of non-Jewish German heritage. In "stupid" Danish slang, he says, Nazi is used synonymously with German.
Be that as it may, the damage is done, and Von Trier's understanding is that he has to keep within a certain distance (he thinks 100 meters) of the festival. "I'm very proud of being persona non grata. I've never been that before in my life, and that suits me extremely well," he says.
"I should be carried around in a little cage with something in my mouth and shown to the press," he adds, and later noted, "I'm joking a lot. I think you need, as journalists, even though you don't find it funny, to see my intention."
Here's the festival's "official response":
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.
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