UPDATE: The Cannes Board of Directors has banned Lars von Trier for his comments, issuing a press release declaring him "persona non grata" at the festival. Story here.
With the pace at Cannes slowing down in the wake of "The Tree of Life," and many festival-goers departing before the final weekend arrives, it fell to Lars von Trier to create the tempest du jour on Wednesday.
As everybody knows by now, he did so not with his film – "Melancholia" was, for the most part, well-received, with little of the virulent criticism that von Trier's "Antichrist" received two years ago – but with the press conference in which he went into a clearly flippant and just as clearly offensive spiel about how he's a Nazi and he understands Hitler. (Video here.)
In the aftermath, von Trier's ill-chosen attempts at provocation were condemned by the festival, the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and a cross-section of other observers. (indieWIRE's Eric Kohn, though, offered three arguments "Why Lars von Trier Doesn't Offend Us Jews," which include the fact that his clearly personal movies provide no evidence of anti-Semitism.)
To Anne Thompson, the fuss overshadowed the raves generated by the movie, and von Trier's performance at the press conference also did a disservice to star Kirsten Dunst, whose "powerful comeback performance" was downplayed as von Trier talked about how Dunst liked posing nude and how she and Charlotte Gainsbourg wanted to make a porn film.
Thompson also links to several reviews, which range from Lisa Schwarzbaum's "a moving masterpiece, marked by an astonishing profundity of vision" to Peter Bradshaw's "a giggling aria of pretend pain and faux rapture."
But the nicest image might have come from Stephanie Zacharek, who noted the film's glorious, gorgeous look and its grim outlook, and said watching "Melancholia" is like "gazing deep into the sugar Easter Egg of doom."
But will its director's odd outburst at the press conference keep the film from being taken seriously as a contender for the Palme d'Or? Thompson seems to think so, and I think she's probably right.
"Please, please don't take this guy seriously," Jeff Wells says, but it’s a stretch to think the jury won't have to consider the fallout. (UPDATE: The action by the Cannes board almost certainly puts von Trier out of the running, though the festival says that his film is still eligible.)
By the way, Wells also asked "Melancholia" co-star Stellan Skarsgard if anything von Trier said in the press conference was sincere – and Skarsgard said that the director really does want to make a porn film next, but that he was joking when he said it would star Dunst.
The controversy over von Trier overshadowed the day's other competition entry, "Hanezu," a Japanese film and the last of the four directed by women in the official competition. (The first three: Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin," Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty" and Maiwenn's "Polisse.")
Six films now remain before the entire competitive slate has been screened, the most high profile of them being Thursday's Pedro Almodovar thriller, "The Skin I Live In." Others yet to be seen are "This Must Be the Place," with Sean Penn as a goth-looking musician; "Drive," with Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan; Takashi Miike's "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai"; and, on the final day of competitive screenings, Radu Mihaileanu's "The Source" and Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia."
As journalists, critics and Cannes-watchers depart, they leave lists behind. Karina Longworth, for instance, ranks all 21 films she saw in her seven days there, worst-to-best. "Code Blue," "Silence of Joan" and "Sleeping Beauty" are the bottom three; "Midnight in Paris" and "We Need to Talk About Kevin" sit near the middle; and the top five includes "Bonsai" ("something between a relief and a quiet revelation"),"The Tree of Life" ("the only thing I've seen at Cannes this year that I can imagine engaging in a conversation with and about for years to come"), "The Kid on a Bike" ("deceptively simple, hypnotically immediate") and "Miss Bala" ("probably the most visually exciting film I've seen here").
At number one is "Melancholia," which she has yet to review.
Steven Zeitchik doesn't exactly list his favorites on the 24 Frames blog – instead, he comes up with "the six festival films you'll soon be hearing about." (Of course, if you're reading this story you've already heard about them.) Five of the six are ones that already have American distribution locked in: "The Tree of Life," of course (out this months from Fox Searchlight), along with the Weinstein Company acquisition "The Artist" and three films due out from Sony Classics: Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In," Joseph Cedar's "Footnote" and Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."
The one on his list that's still in search of distribution is Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin," which he includes because he thinks Tilda Swinton's performance will make her inescapable come awards season.
If you're looking for a Cannes survey that judges films by critical consensus rather than presumed Stateside visibility, indieWIRE's criticWIRE poll has seen some movement since we sampled it earlier in the week. At that point, "The Tree of Life" was the top-rated Cannes competition film with a average grade of A- , trailed by "Footnote" and "The Kid With a Bike" with B+ grades. But now the Malick movie has slipped from A- to B+, where it's tied by three new entries (though not "Footnote," which has also slipped a notch).
The current leaders in the clubhouse: "Tree of Life," "The Kid With a Bike," "Le Havre" and "Melancholia."