I’m pretty sure than Manohla Dargis and I come down around the same place on Von Trier’s Cannes “Nazi incident” and Polanski.
So I have avoided writing about her piece on the issues of both men. As she writes in the piece and is certainly true, trying to have a rational, respectful conversation on the subject of either man can be treacherous. I also don’t think that by writing about them in the same piece, she is equating their alleged crimes… though there are those who would hold Von Trier lower for using the phrase “I’m a Nazi,” than they would hold the admitted child anal rapist. I don’t get that… but that’s why it’s a slippery conversation to try to have.
As the piece keeps on getting sent to me, I decided to write something.
The real issue of the piece is not Manohla’s position on either man, but the odd balancing act of the art and the artist. My position is that they are separate issues. No one was more supportive of The Pianist as a movie than I. But I was also completely aware, especially when talking to talent connected to the film, that the man who brilliantly directed the film was not only a fugitive from the US Government, but showed a clear lack of inclination to take any responsibility for the act he had committed here in Los Angeles.
That is my personal beef with Polanski. That is why I tend to use the modifier “child anal rapist” at least once when I bring up his name. Because that is what he is. That is what he’s done. He is also a victim of the Jewish Holocaust and of one of the ugliest spree killings in US history. He has been through more than I am likely to ever go through (touch wood) and more than most Americans, including me, can ever really conceive of living through.
For me, that makes the smugness around the rape of Samantha Geimer all the worse. He, of all people, should know better.
And then, when it comes to his apologists, I have no patience. Some of my best friends are Roman Polanski rape apologists. But I find the answer to be right in my Jewish training from childhood. Never forget. And I will never forget this about the man.
But finding forgiveness for him is not impossible. It’s not even a huge reach. It’s simply a matter of him being contrite about his actions. Just a bit. Something other than blaming everyone else, from the judge to the media and turning his bad act into a whining lie about his victimization.
We live in a world in which people really are victimized by the criminal system. Happens often, though almost never to the wealthy and powerful. Just look at the Memphis Three, who served decades in jail for crimes they didn’t commit. And they got out! The guy in Georgia who seemed to have a lot of exculpatory evidence and still got the lethal injection… barbaric. So for me, Mr. Polanski fleeing the country because the judge shot his mouth off about sentencing, even though Polanski had a high-priced legal team that was unlikely to allow any change in the plea agreement to stick for very long, is, to me, a mockery of people who are truly vulnerable in the legal system.
And what the apologists always seem to forget is that Polanski’s very brief pleaded sentence was a travesty in and of itself. 90 days for drugging and anal rape of a 13-year-old? If the worst case scenario had come true and Polanski had gone to prison for 8 – 10 years… would that really be a breach of our standards for child rape in this country? Does anyone really believe that if he hadn’t been a wealthy studio director that he would be getting anything less than 5 years in jail for what he admits to having done?
All that said, it has been a long time. The victim does seem to have moved on and has said as much. He did settle with her without a civil case. Most of the excuses are reasonable.
My problem is the arrogance. My problem is that the conversation often crosses the line into blaming the victim. My problem is that people choose to forget when they want to forgive.
But as Manohla points out, I think it is ridiculous to accuse someone who appreciates his work of somehow being supportive of child anal rape. I loved The Pianist. I liked The Ghost Writer. And my only concern about Carnage is that I think he may be a bit ham-fisted with comedy and the comedy of this piece was, on stage, very subtle and smart. But I hope to love the film.
There is some buzz on a hagiography of Polanski playing at the festival in Switzerland in which, apparently, Polanski shows some guilt for his victimization of Samantha Geimer… though word is that he equates it with the media victimizing her as well. BZZT! Wrong. Just admit you did wrong and stop pointing at the consequences of your actions as your cross to bear.
As for Lars von Trier…
Here is the videotape…
I completely get the Von Trier oversell. “Child Anal Rapist” is not too far from him calling himself a Nazi.
He is a passionate, brilliant artist. He is also a giant child with serious mommy issues.
But I completely get the broad, cartoonish use of both “Jew” and “Nazi” in his ramble. Most people from the Middle East don’t love when I say that we beige-skinned people are all – including myself – sand monkeys. My point, when I throw that one out, is not to diminish anyone… but to point out that those of us with blood originating in that region share something greater than borders. This is also why I make fun on my Persian friends being so angry about being called Arabs. Jewish, Muslin, Christian… whatever. We may not share culture in full, but we share that sandy birth.
And I would argue (or is it “rationalize?”) that the exclamation of “I am a Nazi” is 3 steps ahead of the media in front of him, as he must have been certain that anything he said that wasn’t 100% politically correct and involved Germans would eventually come out as him being painted as a Nazi sympathizer.
The Susanne Bier jokes were the kind of lines you only use in a small circle of friends, which could include Susanne. She’s not got the greatest sense of humor about herself, but it’s not hard to imagine Lars saying exactly what he said about liking being a Jew until he met Susanne to her face… and her being bothered for herself, but not for Jews in general.
The whole thing was, in my opinion, a tempest in a tea pot. Even the Albert Speer thing… doesn’t anyone remember the Speer-sympathetic TV movie of Inside The Third Reich, in which Speer was a wide-eyed young architect who just went along with Hitler in order to see his architectural dreams come true, only to realize at some point that he’d fallen into the horrors of Nazi Germany? He was a less complex version of Alec Guinness in River Kwai, but with a German accent in that movie. I believe that LvT, at that point trying to edit himself, was basically saying that he liked Speer’s work… and makes clear that he has no love of Nazis.
Seriously… do you think that LvT doesn’t admire the grandeur of the Nazi regime And seriously… does anyone really think he has anything positive in his heart or mind when it comes to the Ultimate Solution? You really have to want to take him out of context.
I would add now that I have long felt that the Von Tier as misogynist trope was wildly overstated. As he matures and we see his women in the last two films, his issues with his mother have become much clearer, and his vision of women as being more powerful than men is obvious. He clearly fears that power. But hate it? Nah.
We did a Melancholia DP/30 at Toronto… first of 3 or 4, I hope. And we didn’t get to talk about Lars’ mother issues much on camera. But afterwards, we were shooting the excrement and it seems that if you get Lars talking about his mom, it’s a good 2 or 3 hour conversation at the bar. That shows in the film. Rampling and her daughters Dunst & Gainsbourg are remarkably rendered.
And with that… let the argument rage on… since opinions will vary… and no one is an idiot for having one… even if it doesn’t concur with mine. (smiley face emoticon)
Which is easier, writing or directing a film? Those are two totally different things. Writing is slightly easier because you can do it in bed.
~ Ben Wheatley To The BBC
You can neither make beautiful, great movies without risk as you can make babies without sex. Risk is part of the artistic process. That’s why I like performance, because performance is walking a high wire.
~ Francis Coppola