Cannes’ first-ever official “persona non grata,” Lars Von Trier, reacted today to news that none other than the Iranian Deputy Culture Minister for Cinematic Affairs, Javad Shamaqdar, had come–unbidden, one assumes–to his defense.
Shamaqdar reportedly stated that Cannes’ actions represented “traces of fascist behavior,” apparently not appreciating the irony of the situation: Cannes played host this year to not one but two films by Iranian directors who have both been persecuted by their government simply for making films.
The most well-known director, Jafar Panahi, who has won awards at both Berlin and Cannes in the past, is serving a six-year term under house arrest for trying to make a film about the contested 2009 Iranian presidential election. He is also banned from making films for 20 years. His entry, “This Is Not A Film,” was reportedly sent to Cannes via a thumbdrive hidden inside a cake that had to be smuggled out of the country.
What Shamaqdar (and, by extension, the Iranian Culture Ministry) doesn’t acknowledge in comparing Von Trier’s treatment to “the churches’ medieval treatment of Galileo” is the fact that what Galileo stated (that the earth goes around the sun, rather than vice versa) was an assertion of scientific judgment. What Von Trier spouted last Wednesday was a rambling stream of consciousness monologue that included statements about his being a Nazi, being glad he wasn’t a Jew because he doesn’t like Suzanne Bier–despite his company, Zentropa, having produced her Oscar-winning film–and how he “sympathizes” with Hitler. Cannes didn’t infringe on Von Trier’s right to free speech by kicking him out of the festival, as Shamaqdar claims; he is free to say whatever self-sabotaging nonsense he wants, just not on the Festival’s property. Von Trier also apologized for his comments several times of his own accord, not because he was “forced” to do so by the Cannes organizers, as Shamaqdar claims.
Perhaps needless to say, Von Trier quickly distanced himself from the Ministry’s comments, stating that his press conference drivel had been “unintelligent, ambiguous and needlessly hurtful.” He went on to say that what he really meant was that historical atrocities have to be portrayed in terms that people can relate to, rather than casting them as episodes of such extreme evil that they cease to seem real and relevant to the present day. The chastened director went on to state that such multifaceted portrayals are “necessary in order to avoid any future crimes against humanity.”
If Von Trier really wanted to apologize for his idiocy, perhaps his next film could be devoted to the plight of those who, like Panahi, are persecuted, imprisoned and murdered by regimes like that of Iran, simply for exercising their right to free speech.