Dear Lars Von Trier
05/20/2011 - 00:30

 Dear Mr. Von Trier;

Despite your three decades of making films, I have to confess that I never heard of you before this week and have never seen any of your work, which includes "The Orchid Gardener, "Dancer In The Dark" and the upcoming "Melancholia."

It also includes "The Idiots."

I am, however, familiar with the work of Adolf Hitler, the subject of your confessed infatuation as per your diatribe at the Cannes Film Festival. I grew up watching Hitler's work on films that he didn't make but, sadly, couldn't have been made without him.

Don't worry, I get it. You're not a real anti-Semite. You were trying to be all provocateur.

The thing is, that shtick isn't the least bit original. There's barely a week that goes by when I'm compiling news briefs for this paper that there isn't a story about a second-rate celebrity, athlete, state legislator or some other moron who makes a ridiculous Holocaust analogy, says a kind word about Hitler or wears a Nazi uniform to school or work or a royal costume party.

In 2008 there were a couple of parents in New Jersey who tried to get a birthday cake decorated for the son they named Adolf Hitler and then called up the media when Shop-Rite refused to comply.

In March, Dutch footballer Lex Immers was caught on video chanting "we're going to hunt Jews" and, like you, apologized, insisting that he only meant he wanted to beat a rival team, Ajax of Amsterdam. That team has so many Jewish fans that opposing fans have taken to chanting "Ajax train to Auschwitz" while making crude gassing sounds.

And of course you remember weirdo Christian Dior designer John Galliano and his videotaped rant about loving Hitler, telling a non-Jewish couple in Paris that "your mother, your forefathers would be f--ing gassed and f---ing dead."

So, for an artist who has won some acclaim for his work, and accomplished some genuine provocation with the sexual violence of your 2009 film "Antichrist" (or so I read) your rant at Cannes not only got you kicked out of the festival -- and gave Kirsten Dunst the toughest acting job of her career as she sat beside you and tried to strike the appropriate posture (whatever that is) -- but it also made you seem so last year.

Yes, it's partly society's fault. As much as we loathe Hitler we've glorified him by treating him as a singular demon rather than the result of global events that allowed a psychopath to take control of a major world power. Investing that much power in him as an individual -- as if it was his oratory, his sinister haircut and mustache that made him so dangerous and not an army of racist followers and eager accomplices -- has made him a fascination for people like you and Galliano and the birthday parents, for reasons only you can understand.

It's tempting to blame Jewish organizations, too, for grinding out the press releases and playing into all of your hands, but that's their job, and if they stop doing it this kind of thing will really get out of hand.

It's disappointing that you didn't know better, growing up in Denmark, a country that can be proud of its rescue of Jews, and in the household of a Jewish man you thought to be your father. I understand you have some identity issues to work out after finding out your real father was German, but that doesn't excuse using German and Nazi interchangeably.

I won't compare you to Mel Gibson, who's in a class of his own. But I wonder if you aren't a bit like him, working in a field that has benefitted from the involvement of many talented and hardworking Jews, only to trash the Jews when your guard is down. One similarity, for sure, is in the aftermath. Just as Gibson's public behavior hurt his prospects and caused collateral damage for his creative partners, your outburst will take a toll on the talent and other stakeholders in "Melancholia" who could have benefitted from the strong reviews at Cannes had this sideshow not unfolded.

So next time you're in front of microphones with the world listening I hope you'll be a better narcissist and talk about your 25 films and the substantial awards and acclaim they've won, and leave Hitler to damnation, where he belongs.





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For various reasons, which we need not get into here, I know Lars von Trier socially (as in private home dinners, which are in no way work related).

There's no debating that what he said at the press conference was extemely stupid and ill-considered. He is indeed right when he says in his apology, that he shouldn't have to attend press conferences.

That being said, you have to understand the general tone of Danish humor - which has a strong element of making fun of "Danishness" - and then know that Lars is often a joke upon the joke of "Danishness", whether consciously or not.

I found watching Lars' little speech as nothing other than him trying to be funny in a self-deprecating way. It ended up coming out all wrong, of course, and his attempt at silliness was amplified by being on the world stage. I felt very uncomfortable watching the video, partly because of what he said, party because of what I knew he was trying to do - make a joke at his own expense.

Knowing Lars, I think I can honestly say that based on my impression, the man does not have a malicious bone in his body. I cannot imagine him sympathizing with any kind of real-world violence, nor do I believe he thinks about politics more than once in a blue moon - they're simply beyond his span of attention. Lars is gentle down-to-earth and pleasant person to interact with, who hasn't let fame get to his head, even though he obviously has his weird moments.

He has received his slap over the fingers for being bad in class (which is probably how Lars is interpreting this incident in his own head), and his movie will probably pay the penalty for him putting his foot in his mouth and then stomping around with it. However, don't classify him along with people like Mel Gibson, who are subliminal anti-semites, or people who don't know enough history to know that Hitler was one of the most evil men in history. Lars is not like that. He is just plain silly, usually in an inoffensive way.

"Hitler did some bad things." None of us would disagree. Having spoken English most of my life, I would of course not say this. (1) It is a gross understatement. (2) Choosing "some" may imply an underplaying the totality of "bad" he did.

I don't know how much experience you've had expressing yourself in a language that is not your own. I have been in this position myself and so I give von Trier much more leeway than you do. "Some" means multiple, simple as that.

I rolled my eyes and shook my head too. What I heard was a man awkwardly expressing the fact that he grew up thinking himself Jewish only to discover his father was German. He has said before (self-deprecating, and not iterally) "I thought I had a Jewish background. But I'm really more of a Nazi." He was angry that his mother had (deliberately) manipulated his parentage and concealed it from him to her deathbed. He stupidly assumed this background knowledge in those listening to him at Cannes.

Von Trier’s life - compelling or bizarre as you choose to see it - has pushed him to deal with this odd dichotomy. Growing up Jewish you know what evil the German nation cultivated and inflicted on you, your family, your community, your people. To find out you are among those who were the source of this evil rather than its target... can you imagine? Where would your thoughts turn??

Von Trier reminded me this week that all Nazi icons of evil and all German guilt aside, normal humans carried out and acquiesced to the holocaust. Shouting down someone like von Trier for voicing this sentiment (badly) does not, in my view, help any of us.

We cannot discuss this without linking his words to Lars-way-of-thinking, that is of an original "nazi"-director: one who like to torture his audience (in my opinion, in a good way). And he likes it in an anti-nazi way: by subverting our well-shaped, morally majoritarian way of trust ourselves as "good" people against Evil (wherever it come from).
It's art, you (it's an impersonal you: it could be... me, someday) cannot understand. So: you prefer to shut his voice, and close the door, in a not-so-democratic way... I like provocation, reasoning, I prefer having Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde as inspirers (with their own limits... that they surpassed) to would-be, so-called, moral thinkers. [Dark] humor is important in the life, together with knowledge of history. i'm not so sure our contemporary essayists - if any - are up to that mountain of taboo that prevent them to use paradoxes, self-exposing themselves to cross-fire of critics. Lars, to me, is quite on the roof-top now [sorry for my not-so-good english].

bravo for some moderation...g-d knows Lars could've used it.

Adam, your article is banal and primitive. You also display yourself as a fairly ignorant person, as you've never heard of one of the most interesting modern film directors (maybe you should expand your horizon and watch his films, for a change).
My personal reflection, as a Jew, on von Triers's comments: he tried to be sarcastic and funny, but turned out to sound quite stupid. It was not offensive to me, because I follow his works very closely and am aware of his personal issues/problems. He is not an anti-semite, he does not glorify Hitler, he was simply provocative and would not explain clearly what he was trying to say. I think I understand his line of thoughts, but unfortunately for him, he was not a very good presenter on that occasion.

Did you actually watch the YouTube video you linked to? It's clearly not a "diatribe," it's a joke in very bad taste, and when he realized that it was in bad taste, he tried to get out of it in a language that is not his own and only dug himself in deeper.

He starts out saying (in response to a question that's not in the clip), that he wanted to be a Jew, but then he found out that he was really a Nazi. He's joking about the fact that he was told growing up that his father was Danish, but he found out later that his father was German. He later expresses some sympathy for Hitler, but says over and over again that Hitler did bad things, that Hitler was not a good man, that he likes the Jews. The worst thing he says is that "Israel is a pain in the ass."

If we expect people to take us seriously when we complain about antisemitism, we need to stop having knee-jerk reactions to stupid remarks like these.

I did watch the entire video, just as I hope you have read my entire post. I disagree that the worst thing he said was that Israel is a pain in the ass. He also said Hitler did "some bad things," implying he also did good things, as in Mussolini made the trains run on time. I get that he was trying to be funny and made that clear. My point is that he failed miserably, and in doing so did a disservice to the many people who worked hard to make his film a success, from whom all the attention at Cannes was diverted.

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