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Doucheland Uber Alles

In his assertion that he “sympathize[s] with Hitler,” Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier was certainly bringing more than a touch of the bizarre to his press conference at the Cannes Film Festival. But it was Manohla Dargis’s apologia on his behalf in her Times column that added the perfect touch of the surreal to von Trier’s comments. After his initial statement that “I am a Nazi,” Dargis tells us, he “kept going, digging himself deeper and deeper.” But we should not excessively hold him to account for his words, because Dargis is careful to explain that, “he seemed to know he should…shut up.” So this movie making hero is not completely senseless—at least not if you can detect (as Dargis apparently can) that he seems to know what he should do (even if he doesn’t actually do it). Sigh of relief?

Dargis excused Von Trier of any real Naziism a few paragraphs later: “I don’t believe Mr. von Trier is a Nazi; [Another sigh of relief?] He’s just stupid and unthinking.” While the two traits aren’t mutually exclusive, we’re certainly with Dargis on the stupid and unthinking thing. But much like von Trier himself, Dargis seemed to be unable to quit when she was already behind. She went on to explain von Trier’s interest in National Socialism as the result of his being “an extremely awkward man who has always enjoyed playing the provacateur.” Mission accomplished!

It’s difficult to say how being so very awkward results in Naziism, although it’s easy to see how the reverse would be true (in most circles it’s tough to evince an affection for that particular German tradition in a way that doesn’t seem awkward). In defense of awkward guys, if those we know are similarly afflicted they at least seem to be able to keep their antisocial thoughts well-hidden.

Perhaps most telling of Dargis’s desire to excuse von Trier’s Cannes version of a Nuremberg Rally was what she didn’t include—his statement that he sympathizes with and understands Hitler (to find this in the Times you had to get to page C6, where it was buried in the seventh paragraph of Dennis Lim’s article). Also passing mostly without comment were the facts that in addition to considering himself a Hitler devotee, von Trier has recently shown interest in ‘the Nazi aesthetic’ (colorful armbands and funny mustaches?) and his German roots (we would’ve thought some bratwurst and an Octoberfest trip would’ve sufficed, but whatever).

It’s not that von Trier shouldn’t get a pass for what we’d like to think was a poorly conceived publicity stunt, but seeing Manohla Dargis’s contortions to explain it away begs explanation in itself. Is von Trier such a major figure that she can’t burn whatever bridges his name maintains? He’s probably a pretty big deal in Europe, but it seems tough over here to find anyone who remembers seeing any of his movies. Perhaps Dargis simply knows von Trier personally and likes him, and so doesn’t want to take him to task.

Dargis has been at the Times for years, and was an L.A. Times critic for years before that, so she clearly knows her way around the industry. But given this bit of soft-pedalling, we’ll be reading her coverage of Mel Gibson’s next anti-Semitic episode (you know it’s coming) with a little extra interest.



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