Danish director Lars Von Trier has been Europe’s enfant terrible for a long time. If he is famous for getting into controversies and his legendary phobias, he is equally renowned for his masterpiece of films.
Born in 1956, he was a mere 11-year-old lad when he began making movies with a Super-8 camera that was gifted to him. His first publicly released film, The Orchid Gardner, came in 1977. He was just 21 then. Seven years later, his debut feature, The Element of Crime, about an English detective undergoing hypnosis to recall his last case, opened, heralding a magnificent trilogy that comprised Epidemic (1987) and Europa (1991).
A restrictive childhood bereft of freedom or enjoyment or feelings, he grew up as an atheist and went to nudist camps with his parents that probably emboldened him later to show actual sex in The Idiots -- encouraging a wave of such pictures (Catherine Breillat’s Romance, Patrice Chereau’s Intimacy, Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny and Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs).
A passionate founder of Dogma 95 (to strip cinema of its pretentious props), Von Trier could never free himself from debilitating fears. He could never get on a plane, and once he famously said that "basically, I am afraid of everything in life, except filmmaking". When he made Dogville with Nicole Kidman, setting it in an American town of mobsters, critics pounced on him. How can you do a movie about America when you have never been there, they grilled him. He smiled sweetly and quipped, "Did you guys make Casablanca in Morocco"? That shut the criticism.
Two years ago, Von Trier found himself in another bowl of hot soup, when his Antichrist premiering at Cannes, showed genital mutilation in a crudely, sadistic manner. The director survived that onslaught as well.
But this year at the Cannes Film Festival, he seemed to have pushed his luck a bit too far when he said, though jocularly, at the Press conference that he was a Nazi and sympathised a bit with Hitler. The journalists laughed, but the Festival and Gilles Jacob, a Jew, heading it were not amused. Rather, they were angry.
Von Trier was banned, but his movie, Melancholia was allowed to remain in the race, and its lead actress, Kirsten Dunst, did win a Palm for her performance as a depressed bride awaiting a planetary collision that will wipe out life from the face of earth.
Some feel that the helmer, who has been lucky to survive the other controversies, may not be able to cross over his Nazi remark – at least easily.
The Argentine distributor of Melancholia said soon after the Cannes ban that it would not release the film.
Von Trier himself admitted: "I know it will be harder now to get financing and to get the actors I want." The director, who has always been able to rope in big stars like Kidman, Willem Dafoe (Antichrist) and now Dunst to clinch attractive budgets, may find himself being ostracised by big-time actors.
Von Trier tried to tell the world days after the Cannes catastrophe that he is not against Jews. And how could he be. His adoptive father was one, though he was not into religion. Von Trier is also known to have been close to Jacob.
Finally, Von Trier, know to suffer from acute depressions that have kept him in bed for weeks on end, tries to cheer himself by saying: "It's a pity about the damage this has done to the movie and it is a pity if it has hurt the Cannes Film Festival at all. "But as a moviemaker, I thrive on obstacles. If the obstacle now is I can't raise as much money and I can't go to Cannes, maybe that'll be a good thing for my films."
Sounds like a marvellous mood elevator. Does it not?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has followed Lars Von Trier’s life and times)