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A manufacturer of sordid, demeaning piffle: The Danish film director Lars von Trier (illustration by Michael Daley)

"I'm a Nazi" is not generally seen as an acceptable thing to say in polite society, indeed anywhere — but that was avant-garde Danish film director Lars von Trier's proclamation at a press conference to launch his 2011 film Melancholia at the Cannes Film Festival.

Von Trier went on to say, "We Nazis, we have a tendency to try to do things on a greater scale." He was perhaps refreshingly unwilling to suck up to his audience: "Maybe you could persuade me into the final solution with journalists." 

Von Trier was of course keen for his statement not to be misunderstood. He thus went out of his way to explain what kind of Nazi he was: "What can I say? I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things . . . He's not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him, and I sympathise with him."

Von Trier was also adamant that he was not an anti-Semite — or at least not too much of an anti-Semite. "Come on, I'm not for the Second World War, and I'm not against Jews. I am very much for Jews. No, not too much, because Israel is a pain in the ass."

As might be expected these comments caused a rumpus at Cannes and von Trier was declared persona non grata at the Festival. After some perfunctory apologies he decided that he was done for ever with interviews and public statements — and he has broadly kept to this.

Does anyone seriously believe that an edgy contemporary Danish film-maker really is a Nazi? I would rather doubt it. 

What von Trier was presumably doing was saying the most offensive thing that came into his head to outrage what he would see as pedestrian bourgeois sensitivities. Unsurprisingly, making light of the worst crimes ever committed and embracing the most murderous ideology in history did just that.

This did not, however, have any noticeable effect on the critical acclaim his films have enjoyed. Ludicrous, objectionable statements which would destroy most people seem to have no consequence if one is sufficiently celebrated as a counter-cultural genius.

Those who watch his films may ask why von Trier has been so acclaimed and given carte blanche for his actions, however outlandish they are. His films are undoubtedly well-made and visually striking — but their view of humanity is desolate. 

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charles turner
December 9th, 2014
7:12 PM
Hopelessly ill-informed. the Kingdom is a work of genius, as well as being hilarious. dancer in the dark is an analysis of the musical. and the five obstructions is one of the most profound reflections on what Erving Goffman called frame analysis.

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