The Cannes Film Festival Awards Jewish Film, Bans Director Who Made Anti-Semitic Remarks

23 May

Plus, the Coen Brothers were in Israel

By Saul Sudin

Footnote PosterMuch has already been said about Lars Von Trier and his outrageous statements at the Cannes Film Festival, having infamously stated “I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi, because my family is German. And that also gave me some pleasure. So, I, what can I say? I understand Hitler.” Needless to say the words were out of line, but anyone familiar with the filmmaker’s past statements to media know he often says outrageous and shocking things just for his own amusement. Further statements to clarify and apologize came across just as half hearted as the initial one, and in the end Von Trier said, “If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize. I am not anti-Semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi.”

Ultimately, the issue was blown up by the festival itself, which distanced itself from Von Trier because of anti-Semitic speech being illegal in France and the insanity of it all. Ultimately the festival asked Von Trier to not participate in the rest of the festival, despite being a frequent guest and a Palm D’Or winner for 2000’s Dancer in the Dark. When responding to the possibility of never showing a film at Cannes again, Von Trier told The Hollywood Reporter, “I hope not…Because even if I was Hitler – and I must now state for the record I am not Hitler – but even if I was Hitler and I made a great film, Cannes should select it.” If Von Trier was more familiar with the history of Cannes he would know that the Cannes Film Festival was created after a fiasco at the Venice Film Festival in 1938, when Leni Riefenstahl, a propaganda film director for the Nazis and close friend of Adolph Hitler won the top prize over Jean Renoir’s Le Grande Illusion due to political influence. Needless to say, Nazis are not now nor have ever been welcome in France.

But the news that unfortunately few are talking about is that a much more brilliant show of Jewish solitude took place at Cannes just days before. New York-born, Israeli-raised Joseph Cedar, director of the Academy Award-nominated Beaufort, held up hundreds of people; photographers, critics, and guests of all colors while he waited for Shabbat to end before attending the party for his new film, Footnote (Hearat Shulayim). The film, a black comedy which deals with eccentric father-son Talmudic experts who are competing over the Israel Prize, was in competition for the Palm D’Or, Cannes’ top award. After leaving the festival this week, Cedar received a call that Footnote won the award for Best Screenplay, and the director flew back to France to graciously accept this highly coveted prize.

As Turan himself notes, Joseph Cedar is not just making films for Israel.

Peter Bradshaw, of the Guardian UK, said of the film, “there will be many who think that Israeli films are only admissible if they address the Palestinian issue, but Cedar’s film more than justified its inclusion.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called it “a serious farce with significant issues on its mind, a film that invites both laughter and reflection.” Turan is one of the journalists who waited around late last Saturday evening to talk to Cedar. “When you see a Chinese film, you often feel it is rooted in some kind of ancient Chinese tradition. The Talmud is our primary text, our tradition. It’s something I want to deal with if I am making movies in Israel.” As Turan himself notes, Joseph Cedar is not just making films for Israel.

One of the issues brought up recently when discussing contemporary Jewish film at the recent Israel Film Festival was the interplay between what some would classify as Israeli versus Jewish films, and the crossover therein. “We grew up in a Jewish community, but we never thought to make a story that deals with Israel,” Joel Coen said while on a trip to Israel last week to receive a million dollar award from Tel Aviv University along with his brother and filmmaking partner Ethan. “We don’t really know Israel – we write American stories. That’s what we know.” The Coen Brothers were given the Dan David prize for their creative contribution to filmmaking.

While other Diaspora Jewish filmmakers have shied away from their Judaism on screen, the Coens always seem to let it bleed through, especially when tackling that very issue in Barton Fink or drawing on childhood experiences for A Serious Man, both of which were recognized with Oscar nominations. Though initially they played down the influence it has on them, saying “There [have been] Jewish characters, but in regards to whether our background influences our film making… who knows?” When pressed further, he remarked, “We don’t think about it… There’s no doubt that our Jewish heritage affects how we see things.”

to The Cannes Film Festival Awards Jewish Film, Bans Director Who Made Anti-Semitic Remarks



June 14th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I hope this comes to the TOronto Jewish Film Festival next year. Can’t wait to see it (or Downloadable version?)

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