Denouement: Why Lars von Trier Shouldn’t Shut Up
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As you've probably heard, von Trier has decreed that he has "decided from this day forth to refrain from all public statements and interviews." The reason is because he was questioned by Danish police over a matter of French law that forbids justifying war crimes. Yup, von Trier is still living with the personal hell he made for himself after he told reporters at this May's Cannes Film Festival that "I understand Hitler." Apparently he's so shook up by his encounter with the police that he's refused to talk to reporters anymore. (Or, as he put it, "I have realized that I do not possess the skills to express myself unequivocally.")
For a large majority of people, the response to von Trier's proclamation will probably be, "Thank god that loudmouth is finally gonna shut up." But as HitFix's Guy Lodge correctly points out, it's rather chilling how this French statute can silence free speech that's in no way intended to be justifying war crimes. (Didn't French authorities read von Trier's GQ interview about the whole Cannes kerfuffle?)
But putting that aside for a moment, I have to admit I'm annoyed with von Trier's decision. Look, these are "serious accusations," as von Trier said in his statement. But that doesn't mean he has to forbid himself from ever speaking to journalists again. And it doesn't mean he has to fire off a statement like this.
Folks like me who love von Trier have long since accepted that he's a mercurial, emotional, hair-trigger guy. (That's part of the reason why his films are so powerful. They come at you all at once without any sort of filter.) But every once in a while we wish he'd actually stop and think before acting. The first time would have been before he made those initial Cannes comments. The second would have been today. You may think von Trier is a jerk and a bully, but he's an artist and he has the right to speak. Nobody should take that right away from him -- least of all von Trier himself.
But by giving himself a gag order, all he's done is validate those who incorrectly thought he was a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer because of his comments. And when he eventually does opt to start talking to journalists again -- which I think is fair to say he will -- he's going to get pegged as a guy who can't stand by his word or someone so erratic that you can't believe anything he says. (He'd already gotten close to that point with his whole "I apologize for my Hitler comment -- oh, wait, no, I don't" routine.) Lars, if you don't want to talk about the Cannes controversy anymore, that's fine. Say that. But talk about your movies. They've always been your best defense anyway, especially now. This controversy will blow over with time. But you calling attention to it by saying you're not going to speak anymore sure doesn't help speed up that process.