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Off-Screen Controversy Threatens Cannes Festival


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The Cannes Film Festival wraps up this weekend. Acclaimed directors Woody Allen, Lars von Trier and Terrence Malick debuted their latest films at the glitzy French festival.

And to talk about the films, as well as some of the excitement off- screen, we're joined now by Steven Zeitchik. He's been covering Cannes for the Los Angeles Times. Welcome back to the program.

STEVEN ZEITCHIK: Oh, thank you very much. Good to be here.

NORRIS: And I want to get this issue involving the Danish film director Lars von Trier. Much of the talk at Cannes has been about discussion that he had. He was thrown out of the festival, named persona non grata for comments that he made at a news conference. Bring us up to speed there.

ZEITCHIK: What happened here was Lars von Trier, who has always been a provocateur, you know, this is the director of "Breaking the Waves." He kind of started this so-called movement, this Dogma 95 movement that emphasized sort of more naturalist filmmaking.

He kind of started down this weird path. It all began when someone asked him about using Wagner in his film, in which he basically dug himself deeper and deeper into a hole. And he ended up essentially saying, in jest but obviously in very poor taste, that he understood where Nazis were coming from and that he himself was a Nazi.

And he kind of seemed to be amused by the whole thing, and the whole room was sort of just sitting there ashen-faced, and...

NORRIS: Including the actress who was sitting onstage next to him.

ZEITCHIK: Well, yeah. You know what, it's interesting because Kirsten Dunst was onstage. She was looking pretty stricken, and the whole thing is sort of a dark stain on the festival.

NORRIS: Now, you had a chance to interview Lars von Trier about all of this. Can you quickly tell us what he had to say?

ZEITCHIK: Well, it was very interesting. It was about 24 hours later, and he basically - you know, he apologized. He was contrite. But much like in the press conference itself, he can't help himself. So even as he's apologizing, he's kind of saying these things that are sort of provocative in which, you know, he said, you know, I don't understand why the festival is so upset. What if I was Hitler? Who cares? This is about films. This is not about directors.

He was sort of continuing some of the antics he started in the room, and I don't think that was a very wise move.

NORRIS: OK, so from an outspoken director to a director who barely says anything in public, Terrance Malick. His film "Tree of Life" was eagerly awaited, and it got a very interesting reaction from the audience.

ZEITCHIK: It really did. You know, Terrance Malick did "The Thin Red Line." He did "Badlands." He's not made a lot of films in his career. And he spent about five years shooting and editing this newest film.

And, you know, I have to say I was at both the media screening and the kind of public premiere screening, which is sort of this big black-tie event. And at both screenings, it got more applause and enthusiasm than it did boos and skepticism.

But there were certainly people in both screenings who were kind of jeering it. And there is this sort of grandiosity and a sort of showiness to his films in general but particularly to this one. There's kind of a whole 20-minute sequence in which he shows the creation of the universe, and I think that got to people a little bit.

I openly think the consensus was pretty enthusiastic, but there was a bit of divisiveness about it.

NORRIS: So Steve, I imagine you've been going to a lot of movies while you've been at Cannes. Can you tell us which ones really stand out to you?

ZEITCHIK: Well, one of the movies that I think really is going to get a lot of attention coming is a film called "The Artist." And this is a movie about a silent-film star who's kind of about to be made obsolete by the advent of the talkies.

The interesting gimmick to the film is that it's a silent film itself. It's a black-and-white silent film shot in 2011 and released in 2011, and I think it's going to be a real conversation piece.

Another movie to keep an eye on is a movie called "Drive." Ryan Gosling stars as a very sort of moody kind of stunt driver by day and criminal by night. And I think a lot of people are going to take notice as he sort of expands into more commercial roles and more action-oriented roles.

Finally, I should point out a movie called "We Need to Talk About Kevin." It's based on a bestseller about a mother and sort of troubled kid. Tilda Swinton stars as that mother, and, you know, she's always kind of raising eyebrows and catching people's attention for her strong performances.

And this is a very tough, dark movie, but it's very kind of stylish one, and I think Tilda's going to get a lot of attention for it.

NORRIS: Steven Zeitchik covers the movie industry for the Los Angeles Times. Steve, thanks so much.

ZEITCHIK: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.