Lars von Trier has a long history with Cannes. Years before the festival declared him persona non grata and banned him from the festival for joking about Nazi affiliations at a press conference, he won the Palme d’Or for “Dancer in the Dark,” and continued to maintain his auteur stature at the festival for over a decade. Even in 2011, when the festival made it unclear if it would ever allow him back, “Melancholia” still won a best actress prize for Kirsten Dunst.
Seven years later, von Trier is finally returning to Cannes with “The House That Jack Built,” a psychological thriller starring Matt Dillon as a serial killer. However, the festival programmed von Trier’s movie out of competition, sidestepping the potential controversy that would face a jury forced to consider the movie for the festival’s top prize.
In an email to IndieWire, Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux said the decision to put von Trier out of competition was tied to its content. “His film is out of competition because it is such a singular object, a subject so controversial, that this was his best place,” Fremaux wrote. “And whether we like it or not, we are dealing with a great film and a great filmmaker.”
In 2011, Fremaux expressed frustration about von Trier’s comments in an interview with IndieWire from the festival. “More than anything, it’s sad, because in a way he killed his own movie,” Fremaux said at the time. “I would like the filmmakers to think about the fact that Cannes has a big ego, and reflects a lot of things, so they have to be careful.” However, he stopped short of arguing that von Trier’s remarks reflected any kind of worldview. “Lars von Trier has been very stupid, an idiot, but he’s not anti-Semitic,” Fremaux said. “However, on these matters, it’s hard to say something and go back.”
Looking back on the situation, Fremaux suggested that the situation had been blown out of proportion. “I am personally happy that Lars von Trier is here because it is time to acknowledge that he was a victim, certainly of his bad jokes, but also of a punishment that was disproportionate and that had lasted long enough,” Fremaux said.
Notably, with IFC Films already planning to release “The House That Jack Built,” it’s one of only a few Cannes titles this year with U.S. distribution, alongside A24’s “Under the Silver Lake” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” from Focus Features. In the wake of the Cannes announcement, some insiders have speculated that producers and distributions have grown wary of Cannes, a global platform where the reception can make or break a film.
“The question is complex,” Fremaux wrote. “In France, everyone is obsessed with Cannes. In the United States, everyone is obsessed with the Oscars. The French converge around May, and the Americans prefer to wait until the fall. So of course it’s a risk for them to present a film very early in the year if it does not come out right away — a risk all the greater as the critical expectations at Cannes are maximum.”