Cannes Film Festival

Von Trier's Nazi gaffe may help Hara-Kiri's sulky samurais, The Skin I Live In sags

© 2011 - Sony Pictures Classics

It’s not Danish director Lars Von Trier’s time to shine, and that’s a shame, considering the beautiful film Melancholia he premiered at Cannes on Wednesday. Once the darling of the festival, he’s been declared persona non grata by Cannes organisers.


Von Trier, known as a provocateur, joked with journalists at the press conference on Wednesday. When asked about the Germanic romantic theme that runs through his film, Von Trier said he wished he was Jewish, but then joked that he was a Nazi because of his German origins. The joke went even farther when he sympathised with Hitler.

"I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things, yes absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end," said Von Trier at the Melancholia press conference.

Later in the day, Von Trier released this statement: "If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize.I am not antisemitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi."

Samurais will perhaps fare better for his error. As Cannes’s only 3D film this year in the official competition, you’d expect Hara-Kiri, Death of a Samurai, directed by Takashi Miike, to be action packed. Not necessarily.

This dark remake of a classic story tells a personal tale of love and revenge.

The focus is on two intertwined stories. The first, about Motome, a poor samurai desperate to get money to pay for his sick baby. He tells the shogun in the region he wants to commit honorable suicide, or hara-kiri, in the shogun’s courtyard. He asks for money beforehand.

Eager to prevent suicide bluffs, the shogun agrees to allow him to commit this final act. Motome’s fate is sealed as he proceeds to commit hara kiri, or self-disembowellment, with a bamboo sword.

In the second story, his father-in-law, also a samurai, avenges his death, and his honour, but not before the rest of the family is wiped out.

You’d expect tons of swordfighting and action from a samurai movie. Yet swords are drawn only in the last 20 minutes of the film. A compelling movie, but not for action buffs.

Audio report
Skin I Live In - RFI's Laura Angela Bagnetto reports from Cannes

A demented surgeon, a killer in a tiger outfit, and a forced sex change. Yes, this is the latest film by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, The Skin I Live In.

Antonio Banderas plays Robert Ledgard, a doctor who lives in a villa with a basement rigged for experiments. Vera is a young woman he keeps captive, locked in a room and forced to wear a skin-coloured body suit.

Attending to Vera is his housekeeper Marilia, played by veteran Spanish actress Marisa Peredes. One day, Marilia is visited by her long-lost son, a crazed murderer. He played a part in the death of he doctor’s wife. They don’t know it, but they’re related, says Almodovar:

“This is a very very savage family. They come from the same mother, played by Marisa Peredes, who is totally crazy. And in effect, she gives birth to two sons, who are much crazier than her. One is raised on the street and the other becomes a surgeon. Each one is extremely violent and immoral.”

The immorality is revealed when we discover that Vera is actually part of a perverse experiment. Vera used to be Vicente, who the doctor believes raped his daughter. The doctor needs a victim to reconstruct skin to recreate his dead wife.

Vicente becomes Vera against his will, thanks to a total sex change.

Banderas reunites with Amoldovar, 20 years after working together in Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. Banderas shot to fame under the Spanish director’s guidance, and now holds his own in Hollywood productions. Banderas, for one, is grateful:

“Coming back to Pedro Almodovar is a form of recognition, of gratitude because he occupies a special place in my life," he says. "He gave me my artistic education.”

The movie plods along. It’s the shadow of the darkly humorous director’s previous international smash successes.

The film opened to wild applause and ended with a few polite claps. There were no Nazis, however.

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