DISPATCH FROM CANNES: George Lucas and Lars von Trier, With "Manderlay" and "Sith," Two Americans Question America?
by Eugene Hernandez
An unlikely pair of films, Lars von Trier's "Manderlay" and George Lucas' "Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," debuted over the past two days here at the Cannes Film Festival offering criticism of the United States. "Manderlay" is critical in a more direct fashion with director Lars von Trier lashing out at George W. Bush, while in "Revenge of the Sith," which wraps up a six-part story involving the emergence of a dominant evil empire, creator George Lucas drew striking parallels between his films and U.S. history.
Railing against political correctness and even asserting that he is in essence an American, filmmaker Lars von Trier discussed his new film "Manderlay" this morning (Monday) in Cannes after a screening that left many journalists and film critics applauding loudly. "I have gotten a lot of advice about what not to say at this press conference," he told journalists today, indicting the use of political correctness (in interviews or in broader public discourse) that prevents true dialogue about important issues. "There is one thing that really kills any debate in any country -- its political correctness that stops any discussion, I think its kind of a fear of talking." Later, he reinforced, " Political correctness stops us (from) talking or thinking about things."
In Lars von Trier's powerful new film "Manderlay" (screened for press earlier today here in Cannes) -- the second installment in his USA trilogy -- the Danish filmmaker tackles slavery as a key topic. [Ed. Note: A partial plot summary of "Manderlay" is included in this paragraph.] Grace, played in this movie by newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard, leaves the town of Dogville and drives to Alabama with her father (Willem Dafoe) where she finds the Manderlay plantation and its group of black slaves (among them Danny Glover and Isaach de Bankolé) still held by white owners, 70 years after they should have been freed. So she decides to take matters into her own hands engaging the help of gangsters who stand guard with guns to enforce her imposition of the slaves' freedom. Grace's decision to free the slaves of Manderlay destroys a delicate dynamic that once existed on the farm and in the end, they want to return to slavery. The film will have its gala premiere in Cannes tonight.
Probed by a journalist about the universal nature of the story depicted in "Manderlay," which could apply to many countries and political situations, von Trier reacted, "I am happy to have you see it in a more general way. It is about America and my own country and any country, you could say."
George Lucas' final installment in his six-part "Star Wars" saga, the striking "Revenge of the Sith" is also seen as having universal applications. The film, screened for the media yesterday ahead of its splashy world premiere last night, left some praising the new movie as perhaps the second best next to "Empire Strikes Back" and others offering more critical takes.
"This really came out of the Vietnam era," Lucas said of the "Star Wars" story during yesterday's press conference, noting the relevance today and adding that such themes have recurred throughout history, as well. And, he emphasized that "Star Wars" is strikingly relevant today. [Ed. Note: A partial plot summary of "Revenge of the Sith" is included in this paragraph.] A key line that draws parallels to today occurs during a key confrontation between Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), accepting the role of Darth Vader, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) his betrayed mentor. If you're not with me, you are my enemy," threatens the wayward Jedi, with his master responding, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes." The democratic Republic, led by a poisoned Senate, hands over power to its Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, a Sith Lord known as Darth Sidious who empowers Darth Vader.
"When I wrote 'Star Wars', Iraq didn't exist. We were just funding Saddam Hussein and giving him weapons of mass destruction, we weren't worried about him," said George Lucas yesterday at the press conference. And then he added, "The parallels between Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable. I didn't think it was going to get quite this close -- I hope this doesn't become true in our country. Maybe the film will wake people to see how easily a democracy can be subverted."
With the knowledge that Lars von Trier has never been to America, journalists this morning asked the filmmaker to address his reasons for pursuing a trilogy of films set in the United States. "America is a big subject because such a big part of our lives have to do with America," he said, "I must say, I feel there could just as well be American military in Denmark. We are a nation under influence and under a very bad influence... because Mr. Bush is an asshole and doing very idiotic things." Continuing, he reflected on the U.S. dominacnce over other countries and culture. "America is sitting on our world, I am making films that have to do with America (because) 60% of my life is America. So I am in fact an American, but I can't go there to vote, I cant change anything. I am an American, so that is why I make films about America."
However, von Trier has decided to put his American films on hold for a bit, rather than immediately begin work on the third part of the trilogy he has decided to instead work on a new Dogme movie. "I have a way of punishing myself by making three films that look the same," he quipped. "I thought that would a mature thing, right now I am not ready, so I need a little break."
With this final chapter of the 'Star Wars' story, George Lucas has concluded his pair of trilogies, filling in the backstory on a tale that we know has a happy ending. "This is not the fun, happy go lucky movie that some of the others were," George Lucas said yesterday, re-emphasizing that it is the end of the saga and saying again that there will be no more "Star Wars" films.
"This is about the tragedy of Darth Vader, it starts when he is 9 years old and ends when he dies," Lucas said. "There really isn't any more story."
For the latest from the Festival de Cannes, visit the indieWIRE @ Cannes blog, updated throughout the day during the festival.