As widely anticipated, the Danish director, Lars Von Trier – often seen as the enfant-terrible of European cinema – will be back at Cannes this year after he was declared persona non-grata in 2011 by the Film Festival and asked to pack up and leave the city at once. His latest film, The House That Jack Built, will be slotted at the Festival's Out of Competition section.
Festival insiders have told me over these seven years that Von Trier's comment about him being a Nazi sympathiser was actually a silly joke that went haywire in a world which is still to forget or forgive the massacre of six million Jews in Europe by Hitler's men during World War II. So, with half the world baying for Von Trier's blood soon after he made this statement at the Press conference to mark the screening of his Competition tittle, Melancholia, the Festival had little choice but to ask the Danish auteur to go.
Von Trier – at the best of times quirky and eccentric, but brilliantly innovative with his plots on suffering women – was quite upset by the whole unfortunate incident. He for a while went about with a band across his mouth indicating that he shall not speak. He even wore a T-shirt in black which had Persona Non-Grata written in bold letters.
But then, in all fairness to Cannes, its General-Delegate, Thierry Fremaux, forgave Von Trier the very next year – 2012 – and declared that the ban was only for a year, and it was off. But Von Trier being Von Trier, he sulked, and not surprisingly so, for he was prone to mood swings and depression – which he himself had admitted saying that there was a time when he was so down that he found it difficult to even a fetch a glass of water for himself.
Be that as it may, Von Trier – celebrated not just for his extremely provocative and sexually explicit cinema and for Dogme 95, which he and directors like Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) introduced in order to take movies back to their virgin roots (no props, no artificial lighting, no makeup, etc) – is sure to create sound and fury at the French Riviera. He will probably be the biggest talking point at the Festival, and his Press conference may well see a stampede of sorts. If his The House That Jack Built is unusually not playing in Competition ( a slot which has always been his), Cannes journalists, legendary for their brutal professionalism, are bound to quiz him about the # MeToo comments made by his Dancer In The Dark star, the singing sensation, Bjork.
All this will be of course in addition to questions about The House That Jack Built, which plots 12 years in the life of a serial killer, and stars Matt Dillon, Riley Keough and Uma Thurman.
Apart from Von Trier, three directors were added to this year’s official competition on Thursday: The Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, a Cannes regular, who won the Palm dÓr in 2014 for Winter Sleep, is one. His new title is The Wild Pear Tree. The two other helmers are France's Yan Gonzalez (Knife + Heart) and Kazakh Sergey Dvortsevoy (from Russia with Ayka). So, the Competition will now have 21 films – three by women directors and four from the Middle East in a Festival which seems heavily focused on the region this year.
Ironical as it may sound, while movie festivals in the Middle East/Africa are either closing down or postponing their editions (Dubai is the latest), the cinema from the region is doing pretty well for itself.
The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 8 to 19.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 28 years, and may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)