Lars Von Trier and Spike Lee Roil the Croisette
Things have (thankfully) finally been stirring on the Croisette after a rather lukewarm start to the festival here with a couple of high profile movies hitting the big screen of the Grand Theatre Lumière.
One is by perennial controversial Danish director Lars Von Trier (Antichrist, Melancholia) just back from a years-long time-out for bad behavior . The ex-Dogma bad boy is here with The House That Jack Built featuring Matt Dillon as the titular character, being escorted to his new domicile in the nether rungs of hell by a world-weary Virgil (Bruno Ganz). On his Dante-like descent Jack gives “Verge” an overview of his career as a serial killer, all the while debating the morals of life, art and sin. As you might imagine that makes for quite the gory tale which is strangely offset by Dillon’s earnest, kind of likeable quality: all in all an original entry in film’s serial rogues gallery.
This being a Von Trier film, the artistic accomplishment and accomplished directing come with shades of sadism, and before the credits finished rolling debates were erupting in the aisles between sharply divided supporters and detractors of the film (and even more of the man) – presumably exactly what Monsieur Frémeaux and the selection committee expected when they decided to program the film (out of competition).
The other sensation of the festival’s second week has been Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. The true story of undercover cop Ron Stallworth, the first black policeman recruited by the Colorado Springs PD in the early seventies, who improbably infiltrates the KKK, was pitched to the Spike Lee by Jordan Peele. The director jumped at the chance of telling a story which he saw as relevant to current politics and the backsliding in race relations.
courtesy cannes film festival
In the film John David Washington plays Stallworth , a detective in the department’s counter intelligence unit, who cold-calls the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. While befriending the local racist leader on the phone, for obvious reasons his white partner Flip (Adam Driver) is enlisted for the face-to-face meetings with the group of racists preparing hate crimes.
Lee’s film, which at times recalls the satirical parody of Peele’s Get Out and mixes period set pieces, classic film clips and contemporary news archive, plays like a remix of the national psyche on issues of race. There are scenes of romanticized notions of the Civil War from Gone With The Wind and the stereotyped propaganda of Birth of a Nation, a recreated speech by Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) to an audience of black student activists and an extended cameo by Harry Belafonte (91) as an eyewitness to a lynching which he relates in detail while sitting on the same rattan throne made famous by Huey P Newton. Lee also openly homages Blaxploitation as he mocks and agitates in what amounts to an extended anti-racist tract – and an openly anti-Trump piece of agitprop.
“This film to me is a wake up call,” the director told journalists in Cannes. “Because we’re goin’ round going ‘okey dokey’, walking around in a daze and stuff is happening and it’s topsy turvy. And fake is been trumpeted as a truth”. That statement was part of a press conference almost as rollicking as the film itself, in which Lee openly attacked the current president as a standard bearer for the racism denounced in the film. Excusing himself for using “some profanities” Spike proceeded to lay down a barrage of “F” and “MF” bombs that would have softened a battalion of sailors, explaining in particular his decision top end the film with actual footage of the supremacist attack in Charlottesville which last year resulted in the murder of anti racist demonstrator Heather Heyer.