Nadia’s Cannes Blog: Part 4—Scandal And Triumph For Lars Von Trier

Actor and first-time director Nadia Litz on Lars Von Trier's anti-Semetic scandal and his masterful "Melancholia."

Photo by George Pimentel

As I leave the very first screening of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, I think to myself, I do believe Kirsten Dunst could be on her way to an Oscar.

When mere hours later, news broke of the director’s rantings at the press conference–ranging from wanting to cast his leads in a porn to frightening comments about sympathizing with Nazis–it became clear that this truly brilliant film and performance that I had the unique position of seeing without the taint of controversy could be forever associated with Von Trier’s off-screen scandal.

The film was shown at the Grand Lumiere Theartre–probably the most famous theatre in the world. It’s a massive, daunting place (they have turned away more with invitations at the door than they sometimes let in) along the Croissette. The screening is on the brightest and clearest morning in Cannes yet.  

Fitting for a film about the end of the world.

Lucky enough to be one of the 2300 people sitting there (hundreds were turned away), I anxiously wait for the curtain to open as Dunst, French/British hipster and fashion-set favourite Charlotte Gainsbourg and the bafflingly talented (and bafflingly ignorant) Lars Von Trier face the press outside.

Although you will be hearing more about the controversy from the press conference, the movie itself is brilliant and demands a big-screen viewing (no Netflix for this one!).  

Despite instant praise for the film, which infuses vintage Kubrick and Bunuel into Von Trier’s already original voice, I witness an older French gentleman being interviewed immediately after the screening, repeatedly saying “merde, merde.” I doubt he’s fond of the fact that the end of the world is told through young Dunst’s eyes. Casting her is so deliciously subversive though because it takes the “end of the world” trope, usually told through the eyes of a manly man who saves the world, and instead tells it through the eyes of a flawed yet endlessly sympathetic young newlywed who suffers from extreme depression–melancholy towards society’s demands and expectations.

Dunst’s character, in what could be described as a metaphor for an artist, can’t save the world and doesn’t want to save the world. All she can do, in the end, is use her imagination–a side effect of her illness–to perhaps lessen the blow of inevitable doom.  

In light of Von Trier’s press conference comments (and his immediate heartfelt apology) Dunst’s character seems somewhat more poignant, reflecting the simultaneous genius and self-annihilating madness of the artist himself.

Writers for the Hollywood Reporter and the London Gazette have called the film the strongest contender for the Palme d’Or. But with the Dane’s comments it would be, at the very least, a controversial win.

Amid a refreshing lack of controversy, my short film How To Rid Your Lover Of A Negative Emotion Caused By You! will screen in just one day. As a prelude, I am treated to an intimate conference of inspiration with the original fan of long titles, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry.  

About 60 of us gain exclusive entrance to a 50-seat room in the basement of the Palais and let Gondry charm us with his intimate accounts of filmmaking and his personal views on aesthetic.

Gondry is so disarmingly down to earth, I ask him about something that’s been on my mind in the Cannes world of excess–limitations. I’m interested in how he thinks limitations, like, for example, the low-to-no-budget of an indie filmmaker, can actually breed creativity.  

Gondry excitedly tells me that Beck once told him he would put a plastic bag over his head while recording songs for his next album because limitations were so important.  He says he loves my question and the fact that I understand the link between limitations and creativity bodes well for my directing. I die! He recounts personal anecdotes–like, for example, how in The Science of Sleep he saw the dream sequences in more of an Inception way, but as he didn’t have a Christopher Nolan-sized budget, developed the arts-and-crafty style synonymous with Gondry films.  

His answers lead me to fist pump the air in solidarity for art – lest we forget in all this hoopla that this festival is, after all, about the movies.

Nadia Litz is a Canadian actress. Her directorial debut, the short How To Rid Your Love of A Negative Emotion Caused By You! is screening at Cannes. Read more of her Cannes adventures