Christian Cannes jury tells us what to think

Posted by · 12:18 pm · May 23rd, 2009

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist

UPDATE: I’m pleased at least to report that Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux is as outraged by the situation as we are, denouncing it as a “ridiculous decision that borders on a call for censorship … scandalous coming from an ‘ecumenical’ jury which what is more is headed by a film-maker.” Well said, Monsieur.

EARLIER: I shouldn’t allow myself to get worked up over a petty gesture by a small-minded panel of people, but this can’t pass without comment.

You may or may not be aware that an annual “Prize of the Ecumenical Jury” has been handed out at the festival since 1974. Established and voted upon by a selected panel of Christian film professionals, it aims to honor “works of artistic quality which witnesses to the power of film to reveal the mysterious depths of human beings through what concerns them, their hurts and failings as well as their hopes.”

I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the point of the award. Still, it has gone to some fine films over time, and not ones necessarily with a spiritual agenda — from “Paris, Texas” to “Cache” — so I always thought it harmless enough. No more. This year, they’ve decided to mount their moral high horses by handing their first ever “anti-award” to Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist”:

“We cannot be silent after what that movie does,” said Radu Mihaileanu, a French filmmaker and head of an international jury that announced the awards Saturday.

In a statement, Mihaileanu said Antichrist is “the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world,” a reference to a statement by Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier at a post-screening news conference. The movie, Mihaileanu added, says that the world has to burn women in order to save humanity.

I haven’t seen “Antichrist.” I have no idea yet whether it’s a good film or not. But that’s irrelevant. The audacity and smug self-righteousness of this gesture leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. What right have they to presume what a famously cryptic auteur is “saying” with his work, and then berate him on that assumption? What right have have they to make damning moral judgments on art that has yet to be interpreted by audiences at large? What right have they to impose moral parameters on art in the first place?

How on earth does such censoriousness have a place at one of the world’s greatest forums for alternative cinema? We can read and dissect the film for ourselves, thank you very much. In the meantime, keep your bloody “anti-awards.” Anyway, it kind of makes you hope “Antichrist” takes the Palme d’Or tomorrow, as unlikely as it may seem.

Oh, their “real” prize went to Ken Loach’s “Looking for Eric.” If you care.

→ 35 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

35 responses so far

  • 1 5-23-2009 at 12:23 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Obscene, sickening and really, for a festival that sets itself up as a haven for artists, hypocritical as all hell.

  • 2 5-23-2009 at 1:04 pm

    Dominik said...

    This is the BEST promotion the movie can get…;-)

  • 3 5-23-2009 at 2:06 pm

    steve said...

    everyone has a right to their own opinion, and they are just stating theirs. while i personally can’t wait for this film i have no problem with this “anti-award”.

  • 4 5-23-2009 at 2:29 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m sorry, but they aren’t merely “stating an opinion.” They’re presenting their subjective interpretation of the film as a given, putting words into the mouth of its maker, and condemning him on that basis.

    It’s one thing for a critic to riff like that. From an official festival body, it’s unacceptable.

  • 5 5-23-2009 at 2:39 pm

    MattyD. said...

    They really should read Roger Ebert’s interpretation of the film from his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times. It’s a very interesting read that references many aspects of Christianity and in no way mentions the film as blasphemous or misogynistic.

    Here’s the link for those who want it:

  • 6 5-23-2009 at 3:13 pm

    Henrique said...

    “What right have they?”

    Well, I suppose it is the same right that you have… Or am I wrong?

    Are you supposing that they don’t have the right because of the award’s religious base? I think your comments would be very very popular in Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union…

    An award is always a sign of respect and esteem for the artist’s work and ideas.

    So, when the Academy gives an award for “Milk”, it is endorsing not only the film’s artistic merits, but also its political agenda (let’s not pretend this is not true; it is obviously the truth). It is, by other words, saying what we should think about a particular subject.

    Well, why wouldn’t another awards group have the right to think differently?

    You may not agree with them. But the right to say what they want – they still have it. Would you take this right from them?

  • 7 5-23-2009 at 3:16 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Massive kudos to Fremaux for dashing this stupidity.

  • 8 5-23-2009 at 3:38 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Are you supposing that they don’t have the right because of the award’s religious base? I think your comments would be very very popular in Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union…”

    I can’t even begin to understand what you’re saying there, Henrique.

    I’m arguing in favour of a filmmaker’s right to express himself — something an “award” like this blatantly stands against.

    Your “Milk” comparison makes no sense either. Using awards to subliminally endorse a film’s politics and/or philosophies (as was not-so-subtly the case at Cannes in 2004) is not equal to condemning another’s. Particularly when said philosophies are very much still up for discussion.

    A film like “Milk” offers a clear agenda to be endorsed in the first place; Lars Von Trier hasn’t.

  • 9 5-23-2009 at 4:13 pm

    Bill said...

    It’s undoubtably very silly and rather classless of them to hand out an “anti-award.” Bad form, certainly.

    However, I’d disagree with your conjecture that they are “telling us what to think.” Rather, I think, they are telling us what they think. They’re using their forum as a medium for self expression.

    Furthermore, I don’t think we need to worry about “censorship.” These people probably aren’t very powerful or influential, and will be criticized enough to do more than balance out what they’ve said. In fact, as another commentator said, their actions are likely to help promote the film. Put it in perspective.

    Also, I doubt that their religious affiliation has inspired them to condemn the film. In fact, it’s likely in spite of their religious affliliation that they do so. Von Trier is a reasonably devout Catholic (perhaps the panel is predominently Protestant, though?) and Antichrist is obviously a Christian film with plenty of Christian symbolism. They’ve condemned the film instead in their secular capacity, blaming its “mysogony.” This is a move like the Cache one you mentioned that doesn’t necessarily apply their religious convictions.

    The Hitler/Stalin comment refers to the over-secularism of those regimes, where Atheism replaced Theology as the operative “State Religion” and effectively became a religion of its own. That’s what he means if you’re confused, but really, have Hitler comparisons not been used enough?

    The move by the panal was silly, tactless, and will be polarizing, but they, like us here, are just expressing themselves. We should remember Voltaire, who said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

  • 10 5-23-2009 at 5:01 pm

    Mike said...

    How boring would Cannes have been this year without Trier?

  • 11 5-23-2009 at 5:06 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It’s not about influence, Bill. But the group is very clearly sending the message that a certain form of expression is not welcome at a film festival that poses as, again, a haven for artists.

  • 12 5-23-2009 at 5:32 pm

    Joel said...

    Wow, just absurd for a film fest to do that. I haven’t seen the film (obviously) but watching the trailer gave me the idea that the film is, indeed, a very shocking statement about an apocalyptic truth in Christianity: the very idea of what could define the Antichrist. (I’m not presuming to know this, either, just basing my views off a 2.5-minute clip montage.) Sounds like an extreme lack of judgment, or just act of stupidity, on the jury’s part. And I say that as a Christian. Art is art is art, even Christian art. Kinda makes me wonder if the jury itself has an agenda, y’know?

    Mike: BAHAHAHAHA! Good point.

  • 13 5-23-2009 at 5:34 pm

    Joel said...

    Oh and I could be completely wrong with what the movie’s trying to say. I don’t think anyone knows what was going on in Von Trier’s mind when making the film. I don’t think anyone ever does.

  • 14 5-23-2009 at 6:26 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Joel: Exactly. Which is why it’s both arrogant and foolhardy for the ecumenical jury to presume that they do.

  • 15 5-23-2009 at 7:08 pm

    Silencio said...

    I’m really looking forward to this movie…

  • 16 5-23-2009 at 8:33 pm

    Patryk said...

    How arrogant of this “ecumenical” jury to present this anti-award. Not everyone is a “Christian.” It wasn’t that long ago that the “Catholic League of Decency” was condemning the works of Tennessee Williams. Walmart is refusing to carry the new Green Day album because they refused to censor their lyrics. Time for these self anointed zealots to keep their hands off art.

  • 17 5-23-2009 at 10:12 pm

    Bill said...

    “Not everyone is a “Christian.” ”

    And why do you think these people will be concerned with the “anti-award?”

  • 18 5-23-2009 at 11:59 pm

    Patryk said...

    Because they want to restrict and condemn what is different than their belief system. What a joke. They can turn off the TV or not buy the product they deem offensive. Leave my options open.

    Unfortunately this proclaimation will bring more protests from the right. Just like the protesters at the film “Priest” in 1995. As if that film’s plot was so far removed from reality.

  • 19 5-24-2009 at 1:08 am

    steve said...

    so are you saying that people shouldn’t speak when they have nothing nice to say? give me a break. art is subject to interpretation. if you’re furious at this, then you should be furious with all awards. every award is a collective group of people’s opinion. that is all this group did, was share their opinion.

  • 20 5-24-2009 at 1:45 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “so are you saying that people shouldn’t speak when they have nothing nice to say?”

    When what they have to say impinges on the self-expression of others, then yes.

  • 21 5-24-2009 at 1:53 am

    steve said...

    basically if you promote censorship then you yourself should be censored?

  • 22 5-24-2009 at 2:04 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    If you want to phrase it that paradoxical way, sure. Censorship is the only thing that should be censored.

    Anyway, neither of us are budging, so we must agree to disagree.

  • 23 5-24-2009 at 4:59 am

    steve said...

    ok i agree to disagree.
    on a different note, i was wondering if you knew what the reaction was to thirst? maybe you posted it and i just missed it but to me that was one of the more intriguing films in the competition.

  • 24 5-24-2009 at 5:11 am

    Bill said...

    I completely agree that this was a foolish move on the part of the panel and that their actions lack grace and even common ettiquete. Yet at the same time, I think you are blowing this out of proportional if you honestly believe that their irrelevent “anti award” “impinges on the self-expression of others.” I don’t see how this is going to prevent a single person from seeing the film. They have stated an opinion, albeit a misguided one, that will almost certainly have no effect. Just because this ridiculous board has a Christian affiliation, many of you have assumed this is censorship, which is a completely illogical step, especially considering that this decision was probably a defiance of their religious beliefs, which are actually reiterated in the film. People here are complaining that “not everyone is Christian.” This bolt headed set of jurors, regardless of how tactless their award has been presented, never assumed anyone else was Christian, nor that anyone else would listen to their advice. You are giving these people way more attention than they deserve.

  • 25 5-24-2009 at 8:03 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Steve: Reviews for “Thirst” have been all over the map, honestly. I believe I mentioned a very positive Screen International review prior to the festival, but others, including Variety, regard it something of a disappointment from Park.

    I’d surprised if it won, but who knows?

  • 26 5-24-2009 at 10:46 am

    tony rock said...

    well said, Bill…i think it’s just reflex for film buffs (i.e. intellectual “free-thinkers”) to jump on any Christian group, however irrelevant their affiliation may be.

  • 27 5-24-2009 at 1:14 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Tony: This isn’t the place for me to discuss my religious identity, but it’s not what you’re implying.

  • 28 5-24-2009 at 3:15 pm

    steve said...

    thanks guy i found that post

  • 29 5-24-2009 at 3:17 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    And look how wrong I was!

  • 30 5-24-2009 at 7:04 pm

    steve said...

    is there any notable “bronze” place films in Cannes history?

  • 31 5-24-2009 at 8:21 pm

    meh said...

    just quick notes:
    — the very positive review of Thirst from Screen is written by Paquet who began his career as critic/writer of Korean films (!
    — this Christian jury obviously missed the interview snippet of von Trier, who admits he holds a grudge against his mother who didn’t love him enough (or at all?) now extrapolate all womanhood on the earth from “Larsie’s mum”?? gainsbourg herself interpreted both He & She (and probably everything else in Antichrist) as parts of von Trier himself.

  • 32 5-24-2009 at 9:51 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “i think it’s just reflex for film buffs (i.e. intellectual “free-thinkers”) to jump on any Christian group, however irrelevant their affiliation may be.”

    Ignorant statement.

  • 33 5-25-2009 at 1:26 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “is there any notable “bronze” place films in Cannes history?”

    Yes, many: “Persepolis,” “Z,” “Jesus of Montreal,” “Il Divo,” “Crash” (Cronenberg’s, obviously), “Songs from the Second Floor,” etc.

  • 34 5-25-2009 at 1:55 am

    steve said...

    Wow that’s a pretty impressive list. any word yet if it got picked up by a distributor?

  • 35 5-25-2009 at 3:13 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yes, Focus Features acquired U.S. distribution rights months ago.