Do Lars Von Trier's Nazi Comments Deserve Indefinite Self-Imposed Silence -- or Worse?
Well, now: Lars Von Trier's notorious Nazi comments last May have haunted him all the way home to Denmark, where he says local cops questioned him in connection to charges leveled at him by French officials, post-Cannes. In a statement released today, the Melancholia director issued a promise of his own following the media and legal shit storm caused by his ill-conceived joking, announcing that he'll no longer speak publicly or to press. At all.
Von Trier's statement (courtesy of Awards Daily):
"Today at 2 pm I was questioned by the Police of North Zealand in connection with charges made by the prosecution of Grasse in France from August 2011 regarding a possible violation of prohibition in French law against justification of war crimes. The investigation covers comments made during the press conference in Cannes in May 2011. Due to these serious accusations I have realized that I do not possess the skills to express myself unequivocally and I have therefore decided from this day forth to refrain from all public statements and interviews."
Here's what von Trier is up against: The Gayssot Act of 1990 made it illegal in France to question the existence of certain crimes against humanity, with a focus on the Holocaust. It also restricts making public statements that either justify or are sympathetic to said crimes, punishable with prison time or a fine.
Back in May, Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek reported on von Trier's comments from the Cannes press conference for Melancholia:
"I think I was a Jew for a long time," he said. "I was very happy being a Jew." Then, after making a sly reference to fellow Dane filmmaker Susanne Bier, who often speaks candidly about her Jewish identity in interviews, von Trier announced that even though he always really wanted to be a Jew, he discovered that he's really a Nazi. "Which also gave me some pleasure," he added.
"What can I say? I understand Hitler," he continued. "I think he did some wrong things, absolutely, but -- I can see him in his bunker in the end."
The roomful of journalists sat, stunned. It appeared that von Trier, who seemed to be in jolly good spirits for a notoriously depressive Dane, intended this as an joke, albeit an ill-advised one. But how was he going to dig himself out? He added that Hitler was "not what you would call a good guy" and babbled further, explaining that he's very much "for" Jews. "All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain the ass."
Von Trier knew he was in a pickle, and asked aloud, "How do I get out of this sentence?" But there was more: When one last journalist asked von Trier if he considered Melancholia to be his Hollywood blockbuster, he replied, "We Nazis tend to do things on a great scale."
Whether or not you believe that the incident has truly scared von Trier straight (and I do), one thing's clear: In no way could he have imagined that his terrible joke would wreak such havoc on his public image, let alone lead to legal repercussions. But then he's an artist, and a known provocateur at that, and besides: Why has France taken such lengths to enforce its anti-free speech laws on someone who was clearly just talking out of his ass?