#MeToo gets whacked in Lars von Trier’s sadistic Cannes comeback
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Spike Lee pulls no punches in a satirical comedy about the KKK (and Donald Trump), while Danish bad boy Lars von Trier returns from his “Hitler ban” with a gruesome thriller about foolish women getting butchered.
Spike Lee got a long-awaited invitation to the Cannes Film Festival this year – but it came with a catch. “BlacKkKlansman” is his first competition entry since “Do The Right Thing” a whopping 29 years ago. When that film was overlooked for the Palme d’Or, Lee famously blamed jury president Wim Wenders for “hatin” it. When it was also snubbed in the Oscar race, and Bruce Beresford’s “Driving Miss Daisy” took the top prize, the Brooklyn-based director and activist was livid. He later quipped: “Driving Miss motherf**king Daisy?! That’s why [Oscars] don’t matter. Because, 20 years later, who’s watching ‘Driving Miss Daisy’?”
One can only hope Lee didn’t take a look at the full Cannes programme upon arriving on the Riviera. Call it a coincidence, or below-the-belt Gallic humour, but it turns out Wenders and his documentary on Pope Francis were feted on the red carpet just 24 hours ahead of Lee’s own premiere. And guess which movie got a screening in the festival’s prestigious Classics sidebar? “Driving Miss (motherf**king) Daisy”.
I wouldn’t put my money on Lee getting the Palme this year either, but his latest feature, about a black detective who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, is certainly a powerful statement as well as entertaining viewing. Based on the extraordinary true story of Colorado detective Ron Stallworth, it stars Denzel Washington's son John David Washington as the Afro-sporting Stallworth and Adam Driver as a Jewish undercover police officer who poses as the black detective’s “white self”.
Both angry and funny, “BlacKkKlansman” is an all-guns-blazing attack on institutional racism and the legacy of the white supremacist Klan. Lee is not into restraint, crowding the film with every KKK trope he can think of (think cross-burning rituals, creepy induction ceremonies, crass, booze-enhanced stupidity, and racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic drivel spewed out on a loop). The gags and jabs are broad, blunt and often repetitive, but the filmmaker certainly hits his targets. Surely America will never elect crass white supremacists disguised as respectable politicians, ponders an incredulous Stallworth, in one of several deliberately unsubtle warnings of what lies ahead.
Bookended by TV news footage and scenes from US film classics, “BlacKkKlansman” points to a continuity in racist discourse, spanning the century between D. W. Griffith’s 1915 Civil War epic “The Birth of a Nation”, a seminal work tarnished by racism, and the rebirth promised by Donald Trump. It is set to hit US theaters on Aug. 10, timed to the one-year anniversary of the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, where an anti-racism activist was killed by a white supremacist in a terrifying reminder of the KKK’s enduring appeal – and its new-found brazenness under the current US administration.
Another comeback kid, and a proud bad-boy agitator too, Lars von Trier was in equally unapologetic mood in his latest feature “The House That Jack Built”, a film so gruesome and sadistic it prompted a rare “graphic content” warning ahead of its red carpet premiere – and numerous walkouts during this morning’s press screening. A serial-killer thriller posing as a disputation on the essence of art, his overlong movie is beautifully shot but hard to stomach at the best of times. At 8am this morning, it was a nauseating kick in the gut.
“The House That Jack Built” marks von Trier’s return to the Croisette seven years after he was notoriously kicked out of the festival for declaring, in a press conference, “I’m a Nazi”. Cannes’ decision to lift the ban on the Danish director has proved controversial amid accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment levelled at him and members of his production company. His new film was screened out of competition, thereby sparing festival organisers the nerve-racking experience of another press conference. As it turns out, a presser wasn’t even necessary as the director gleefully addresses violence on women, genocide and Hitler (among other mass-murdering dictators) in his latest film.
A creepy (but excellent) Matt Dillon takes the title role as a narcissistic serial killer full of crap who wants his murders to look like artworks. The women he tortures and bumps off are either too dumb to smell obvious danger or so grating they go looking for it, in what looks every bit like von Trier sticking a middle finger up at the current debate on gender bias and abuse. What is most disturbing about the violence (which includes child and animal mutilation), is the way the film appears to revel in the victims’ fear, naivety and helplessness. All along, Jack is engaged in an eerie, voiceover dialogue with a keeper-of-the-gates-of-hell figure played by Bruno Ganz. The result is a pretentious and indulgent meditation on murder as art (and genocide as an extravagant work of art), in which footage of the 20th century’s mass murderers gives way to images from von Trier’s own work, suggesting his masterpieces are worthy companions to theirs.