The press conference with Lars von Trier after the screening of his film Melancholia in the Cannes Official Competition gave insights into the workings of his mind, not the film. It is clear that the Danish filmmaker does not like the press and turned every question against the journalists asking them. But he also doesn’t seem to respect women. There has been a lot of discussion about the comments which led him to being banned from the festival this year, but no one has really taken him to task about what he said before the final two questions were asked at the press conference on May 18.

In addition to his comments about Hitler, Jews and being a Nazi, he turned on his actors claiming his next project would be a porn film with Kirsten Dunst (who immediately said no) and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The two actresses smiled nervously and laughed away the alleged film that von Trier kept on bringing up until he launched into his German commentary. No one seems to pay real attention to what women at Cannes have to do in their films to win awards and stay endeared to their directors. In this case Dunst and Gainsbourg had to endure relentless comments on this porn film.

The claim that von Trier writes “great parts for women” is not altogether true. You might recall one of von Trier’s student films about an old man who is a sex addict who preys on young women. Last year Gainsbourg played a woman who was burned at a stake for being a women’s studies professor in Antichrist (2009). Emily Watson allows herself to be sexually used by men at her husband’s suggestion in Breaking the Waves (1996). Actually, women don’t seem to hang around von Trier for long, great parts or not. He doesn’t have a stable of regular actresses like Ingmar Bergman or Woody Allen. Where is Emily Watson? Björk, who was in Dancer in the Dark (2000), refused to speak to him after it was finished and screened at Cannes, and although he begged Nicole Kidman at a Cannes press conference to be in a sequel to Dogville (2003) as part of his so-called new trilogy she has yet to return. I can guarantee you that Gainsbourg and Dunst won’t be back after this year. An interview with Dunst at Cannes was cancelled by the Rothchild owned Mouton Cadet Wine Bar who didn’t want to be associated with Von Trier. She was not welcome, said the owners. Who needs this reaction after working hard on a film for months?

Melancholia is about depression and the end of the earth. The title addresses not only an emotional and spiritual malady but also the name of a 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, which is special for this film,” said the Dane.

Well, we are longing for Lars von Trier to grow up. We are longing for him to get as real as his pictures. A real spirit-mind connection. I link this stupid YouTube video to illustrate that beneath Lars von Trier’s comments about Nazis and Jews is a disrespect for women. No one is going to kick him out of Cannes for that. That kind of humour is accepted and invisible. Cannes is known for film “art” where women are tortured, burned or used: Irreversible (Gaspar Noé, 2002), Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, 2003), Antichrist.

The first question at the Melancholia press conference was about the female characters played by Dunst and Gainsbourg. Dunst said that coming out of depression makes you stronger. Von Trier interrupted to mention Kirsten’s “knowledge of depression”, asking, “Can I say that?” Otherwise forget it? Gainsbourg replied, “we are not women, we are Lars?”, and saw nothing different from men and women experiencing depression. Oh, but there is. Especially since a depressed von Trier is clearly very different from how actresses interpret depressed women.

Dunst said she became friends with Lars, whereas Gainsbourg after three films says she does not know the director very well at all. In response to this “rejection” he added, “well I know you from every angle”. Gainsbourg nervously laughed.

Though von Trier could not say for sure if he was going to make the so far unproduced “Washington”, but he said he had plans make a porn film. He claimed that Kirsten asked for the “beaver” shot in Melancholia, and now she wanted more.

“Charlotte is behind it. I said there would be lots of dialogue, but Charlotte replied, ‘We don’t give a shit about the dialogue’. So there will be a lot of unpleasant sex, a hard core film. Three of four hours long so I can sleep a little longer for the press conference.”

When asked about the “magic cave” in the end of the film, von Trier launched into a monologue about the differences between Eastern and Western religion. The Western approach he called the “orchid” school with its emphasis on suffering and the crucifixion. He was all for the Eastern “orthodox” approach that believes in the holy spirit: “If a film can bring this light, the other side of life, the light side of planet earth, the holy spirit side, I am going to exploit it in the porn film. The Eastern church is very important”. Orgasms would also be “very important in the porn film but they would all be fake, except Charlotte’s”, said the Danish melancholic. He explained that had to do with two ways of acting: “French” and for Kirsten it was the style she used in Spiderman. Dunst reminded him of his use of webs of lace and yarn in Melancholia.

Von Trier said he changed his cinematographer (Manuel Alberto Claro) for Melancholia who taught him that women must be younger and younger and get naked in today’s films. “Now they are going to be naked and extremely young.”

Von Trier wasn’t around for long this year at Cannes, but its almost guaranteed that he will be back with his porn film “The Nymphomanic” next year, and all will be forgiven.

About The Author

Moira Sullivan has a PhD in Cinema Studies from Stockholm University. She is a freelance film critic based in San Francisco and a member of FIPRESCI (International Critics Association) and the European Critics Association.

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