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Thursday
May192011

Melancholia Fallout

I really hope that all the press conference controversy surrounding Lars Von Trier's Melancholia doesn't hinder its awards chances if it had any to begin with. Ioncinema's critics panel loved the movie but at least one distributor has already bailed. I am usually quite amused by Lars Von Trier's ease at manipulating the press with his outrageous comments -- everyone falls for it every time! Suckers -- but this time, sadly, his mischief may affect his film's chances to be seen. Which... argh. It's so anti-art to be offended by someone's peronality and therefore reject their work in its entirety and, worse, prevent others from seeing it.

Lars is always making his actresses uncomfortable

This type of moral outrage at bad-taste humor can often snowball in uncomfortable ways. I'm already worried that The Five Obstructions project with Martin Scorsese, which sounds thrilling, will end up derailed as well. Lars Von Trier has apologized but because he is also Lars Von Trier he's been making inflammatory follow up comments as well about enjoying the persona non grata designation.

I haven't been reading Melancholia reviews other than skimming blurbs. I'm most intrigued by IndieWire's description of the film as Von Trier's Rachel Getting Married because, well, who wouldn't want to see that? I was also intrigued by Hollywood Elsewhere's comment about Kiki's lead performance:

She's never operated in such a dark, fleshy and grandiose realm.

Though maybe you can disregard that one, since Mr. Wells doesn't seem to have a sense of how accomplished Dunst's filmography actually is. The Spider-Man trilogy sure did pull the wool over everyone's eyes in terms of her versatility and the general strength of her filmography. Rich at FourFour hasn't yet seen the movie but he sure loves Kiki's performance at the press conference.

ANYWAY... My increasingly anti-review stance is getting uncomfortable for me as a blogger/pundit/critic/loudmouth. I tend to talk more about movies AFTER their release and the world has definitely trended away from me (gulp) there, preferring to exhaust conversations before moviegoers can join in. I haven't decided quite how to work around this yet. See, I knew way too much bout LVT's Antichrist -- to connect this train of thought back to Melancholia -- before seeing it and it was very frustrating for me. What should have been a shock-fest instead was just "oh, here comes that part. I see what he did there." I know in my soul that the modern habit of digging for all and every piece of information for each new movie before experiencing it beforehand (a kindred spirit to the now commonplace Oscar-fanatic trend to take adamant Oscar sides before seeing the performances in question) is detrimental to the magic of the movies. But how to stay informed without spoiling your own capacity for surprise and joy?  Are you also struggling with this? It's been getting progressively worse over the past 5 or so years. I wonder if this will cycle back culturally to valuing secrets or if it will just get worse?  

My favorite shot in the Melancholia trailer. So evocative and childlike

If you released The Crying Game (1992) in today's moviegoing climate, for example, I bet it would never have taken off and nagged several Oscar nominations. (Oscar nominations that were completely deserved, mind you.)  Its whole campaign was about keeping the secret (which wasn't exactly a last minute twist) and by the time people staring knowing the secret before seeing it -- thanks to one of those Oscar nominations -- it was already a "must see" film.

My train of thought has jumped the rails. Back to Melancholia. Do you think the jury will dare give it any prizes, if they were already so inclined, given that Lars von Trier has been expelled?

Related: Yes No Maybe So Melancholia
Interview: The Return of Kirsten Dunst, A Very Good Thing

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Reader Comments (20)

The trend has to take a U-turn at some point. I think everyone will get SO fed-up with film advertising and knowing all these details that they'll eventually reject.
god, nothing got on my nerves as much as Inception. everybody was acting like knowing something about the film before its release was an accomplishment.

as for this year's Cannes, the only review i couldn't resist reading was Guy Lodge's writeup on We Need to Talk about Kevin. Other than that, i'm glad i held back on everything else.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

I had that problem with Blue Valentine. I had been reading about it and anticipating it for about a year before I saw it. While I was sitting in the theater, I couldn't get out of my own head: "Is that scene my favorite? Is that why Ryan Gosling should win the Oscar? I remember Dave Karger writing about that! Is this my favorite movie of the year?"

Needless to say, I was confused as to my feelings on the film until I saw it a second time and simply enjoyed it for what it was. Considering I've been waiting for Tree of Life for about 3 years, I fear a similar first experience.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDimi

Call me stupid, but I can't see how his statement about Nazis can be taken as anything other than a joke. He was clearly not being serious. Declaring him persona non grata is taking it way too far on the festival's part. Definitely didn't expect them to react that harshly to what he said.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I hope Sony Pictures Classic who i understand has the US right for Melancholia will not bail out of distributing it. It would be utterly stupid. Though I really hated Antichrist I love Lars Von Trier's work and , from the reviews. I gather that we're likely to see another masterpiece.

And speaking of reviews, I usually read the beginning and the end, just to make some sort of idea of how the reviewer liked the film. But I hate in general the reviews that detail the plot and by now I kind of know " who those people are " . Also, all this mania with clips from movies, I did that once with a film I was really excited about but I'm never watching one of those ever again.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

This just pisses me off because Kirsten has been making a slow and steady comeback...and it even sounded like she may be a big contender for the Cannes Best Actress prize. Now, there's a cloud over the film and her chances are probably dead. He should've just STFU after he said he wanted to make a porno with Charlotte and Kirsten. Ugh...

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBia

It seemed pretty close between Kirsten and Tilda for Best Actress, but I think Tilda just lucked out...

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Let's face it: Lars has always been a jerk. This is nothing new. I think he got caught up on a certain kind of idiom that didn't translate well to English and wound up circling his gag for far too long. This particular series of comments is making me reevaluate some of his more controversial pieces (was the intention of The Idiots, by far my favorite von Trier film, to just mock developmentally disabled people or are the more common deeper readings his actual vision?).

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

robert -- exactly. this is par for the course with him. I mean saying "we nazi's do things on a large scale" or whatever the exact quote was later in the interview was clearly him laughing about his own ridiculous statement. it's both self-deprecation and intentional button-pushing.

i'm kind of embarrassed for Cannes at this point. How can the most important film festival in the world be this reactionary. Have they watched the kind of films they show?

May 19, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

One annoying thing about the know-everything culture surrounding the movies is that now I never know if how I feel about a film after I finally see it is how I actually feel about it. Let's face it, reviews have always played a large part in determining whether or not I see a film, but it's now to the point where it's difficult to read them without going in with ridiculous expectations. And with all the awards buzz, it's difficult to tell if I actually loved or disliked a performance/film based on my own feelings or based on the cloud of hype surrounding it. I personally think the buzz on The Hurt Locker seriously impeded my enjoying it as much as everyone else seemed to. When I finally saw it a month or so before the Oscars, I was just not impressed. AT ALL. But is that because the movie wasn't any good, or because it simply didn't live up to my ridiculously high expectations based on the amount of hype and accolades it had received? I still don't know.

That said, I cannot wait to see Melancholia. Especially because of Kirsten. People tend to forget what a formidable actress she is and has always been - remember Interview With the Vampire? One of the great screen performances by a child. And I agree with Rich at FourFour about the video of von Trier - to watch Kirsten during that is to watch someone seeing their hopes of any awards for her performance slowly slip away - riveting, hilarious stuff!

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I read almost nothing about films before I see them. That means I'm always way behind the conversation unless I see something on opening night. I'd rather sacrifice my tweet-to-tweet relevance than my pleasure at seeing a movie knowing almost nothing about it. That said, I'm not a daily blogger like you, Nathaniel.

That said, I looked at the clip on the NY Times showing Von Trier's press conference. It's absolutely baffling. He's not simply making a dumb joke when he struggles over the proper way to express his "understanding" of Hitler.Nor does he seem to be purely provoking a reaction to get attention...... He seems to be trying to differentiate the good and bad parts of Hitler. Really? He mentions Albert Speer --- the architect/artist in Hitler's inner circle who promoted the Third Reich but later apologized and went to jail for 20 years --- as if he's a kindred spirit.

The best part of this is watching Kirsten Dunst sitting next to him, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Kiki, we feel your pain!

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

San Fran -- well. i don't know how to say this without being crucified myself, but I think the idea that anyone is pure evil (Hitler or any mass murderer) is a really lazy human tendency that does nothing to advance more compassion within the human race. If you can't discuss the complexities of human nature and try to root out some understanding about how atrocities happen and how people lose their humanity to commit atrocities how can you ever root out any evil or how can you ever reform criminals? These black and white stands people take really don't help the world confront its dangerous sides.

I appreciate that whatever Lars was trying to do/say didn't work... but i know too much of his work not to a) understand that you cant' take any press statement at face value and b) that you can't reject his work out of hand because he's offensive.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Living in Europe, and not exactly the Western part of it, I have big problems trying to avoid reviews until the premier of a film, which, if it is not a worldwide-release action blockbuster, happens an average 6-12 months later than in the US (or more Western parts of Europe). Even if I manage to avoid spoilers, half of the magic is gone by the time I might watch the film at the cinema. I cannot join any conversation about it any more because by that time others will be hot, which, again, I might see half a year later if we're lucky to have them here at all.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervg21

well. i don't know how to say this without being crucified myself, but I think the idea that anyone is pure evil (Hitler or any mass murderer) is a really lazy human tendency that does nothing to advance more compassion within the human race.

Amen to that.

I'd add there's also this idea that Nazi is the worst possible insult, while there're at least people as evil as Nazis around as and they not only go away with it, they're proud of it.

(Only news from an auteur/diva - Von Trier- can outshine the premiere of another auteur/diva -Almodóvar- in the most diva-ine of festivals: Cannes)

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

I think that Melancholia won't get the Palme D'Or, specially when its reviews are smaller than The Tree of Life's. But it may have a shot in the Best Actress prize.
According to reviews, Dunst did an amazing job in this one, but there are some Hollywood names in Cannes fighting for the title like Tilda Swinton (playing the role of a suffering mother) and the beautiful Emily Browning (playing a young prostitute). Björk won this prize in 2000 for LVT's Dancer In the Dark, but I think that Dunst chances aren't so big at all due to the actresses I mentioned above and to all those European actresses of more European productions.

If Melancholia will win a Cannes award, it will be the Best Actress' one.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEd

That people would be offended by this is indeed kind of ridiculous. von Trier, both as a filmmaker and as a personality, is sort of the real life version of an Internet troll; I don't think he's ever made a genuine statement in any of his work or his life. People should know this? Indeed, isn't that the reason he's so famous?

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRax

Screw Cannes. I hope they lose their stranglehold appeal on international film festivals.

Cannes rejected The Crying Game twice for entry
Cannes awarded the Palme d'Or to Wild at Heart

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtfu11

I believe Magnolia have "Melancholia" and are planning a VOM premiere, which already made the film's award prospects iffy at best. I may have that wrong though.

May 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

"i don't know how to say this without being crucified myself, but I think the idea that anyone is pure evil (Hitler or any mass murderer) is a really lazy human tendency that does nothing to advance more compassion within the human race."

That's exactly what I got out of his statement's Nat, as badly-expressed as they were. Which I attribute to a variety of things - not a native speaker of English, pressure to "come up with something controversial" and maintain his bad-boy image - and why not? It's worked for him so far, and been tolerated, hasn't it? But I also read a genuine discomfort on his part with those sorts of press situations. (Read him in printed interviews and a different impression comes across.) He reminds me of the guy who has a lot of anxieties about parties and so is a little louder and more boisterous to make up for it.

I just read Guy Lodge's article about LVT being banned and said "WTF? Seriously, Cannes?" (It's ok in this world to behave like a Nazi as long as you're quiet and slick about it, but saying certain words get you censured? Really?)He's not saying he approves of extermination, and he's not being an apologist, or denying the Holocost ever happened (unlike more than one "fundamentalist Christian leaders" in the US, btw.) And if you don't want to give LVT more power, why bring attention to it by making a point of "banning" him? Essentially Cannes ends up looking petty and foolish and von Trier gets to look like a martyr or victim. Isn't it better to let them lie and die of their own accord? Apparently the powers that be at Cannes want the attention as much as LVT does.

We'll tolerate that and not question the irony (or lack of), but god forbid, don't say the wrong words and make the wrong people uncomfortable. For better or worse, though, that's what fools and jesters do, however. And what artists are "supposed" to do (at least since the beginning of the 20th century, anyway.)

BTW, remember "Star Wars" anyone? Big part of most of our childhood memories, I bet (ok, here in North America anyway.) Remember the completely un-ironic Nazi / Leni Riefenstal visual references - particularly at the end of the film, and associated with the "heros" no less? Yeah, that. You can get away with being a freakin' Nazi - and if anyone needs to have the air punctured out of his ego-balloon, Lucas does - as long as you don't say the wrong words and make the wrong people uncomfortable.

May 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

I don't know enough either about Lars von Trier or his work to support or refute the sincerity of his sentiments, but I do know that a person doesn't make the kind of statement he did -- however ironic or jocular, as I took it -- without expecting SOME type of backlash. My co-worker, who knows nothing of the filmmaker, immediately branded him a nutcase upon reading the news story yesterday because the quest for betterment of humanity through understanding of and compassion for those who exemplify the most vicious aspects human nature is not something most of us strive for -- unlike you, Nate (no sarcasm intended). Clearly, his philosophies, whatever they may be, should/do not diminish his talents as an artist, but they do color how people (may) view him and thus his work.

As for the matter of advanced-word fatigue, we can all thank this technology age that we currently live in for that. The access to information at virtually any time that we want it has created a "need" for news where there previously was none. Therefore, any new piece of knowledge we obtain about anything automatically become an exclusive worthy of ad nauseam analysis and discussion. Consequently, it's become more and more difficult to discern whether or not one's response to a film is pure or tainted by the countless opinions we take in.

May 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H

Troy - well, trust me, i'd rather not think about mass murderers either. I'm not saying this is a fun subject. I'm basically a pacifist as well as a squeamish person. I cringe when people are killed in the movies and I'm supposed to find it "fun". But I think it was the war on terror and years and years of a Bush presidency that made me rethink the kneejerk urge to allows various words "terrorist" "nazi" to gain such power that they mean EVERYTHING about a person. Dehumanizing whole swaths of people is exactly what the Nazis did, it's exactly what happened in Rwanda, and it's exactly what happens in any mass murder / genocide situation.

So why should everyone else continue that practice by making "Nazi" such a word that in instantly stops all discussions in their tracks and dehumanizes whoever says it unless the sentence is "nazis are evil"

I guess what i'm saying is basically everyone is being totally immature about Lars Von Trier's immaturity ;)

May 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R
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