We are all Americans, exclaimed the Danish director Lars von Trier at the press conference in Cannes where his new movie Manderley was shown yesterday. Really? Well, let’s keep this posting in English then just to go along with this although it looks more like an attempt to buttress the usual anti-Americanism displayed in main stream movies.
True to form, Lars denounced President Bush as an “asshole”. There, that’s telling them! No argumentation offered and none was probably expected by the privileged audience who last year greeted Michael Moore with a standing applause. How noble of Lars to say exactly what people expected him to say, how courageous of him to take the same position as the entire established movie world and all the moneymen of Hollywood.
The movie itself has not yet been aired in Denmark, so we have to rely on the reports from Cannes. Apparently, Lars is grabbling with an issue that is important at least to some parts of the Left. Having opposed the liberation of Iraq and thus effectively supported the continued reign of madman Saddam Hussein, what is one to think of the current situation, where a democracy is taking root supported by the vast majority of Iraqis and where the only opposition left hardly qualifies as ?insurgents?, a point made embarrassing clear by Christopher Hitchens in yesterday?s Slate.com. The question is made even more pressing by the fact that for many on the Left this is not the first time they have wound up on the wrong side of the democracy/tyranny divide since the end of the Cold War. How to preserve one?s self-image as a humanitarian?
The answer to this conundrum appears to be that democracy may not be all what it is cracked up to be. Maybe uneducated Iraqis think so and risk their lives in the thousands in doing so, but a sophisticated artist like Lars knows better. And so Lars grabs back to the dear old story of Uncle Tom with all the subtle questions that is connected to that story. Was slavery really that bad, wasn?t the black slaves in many ways better off than the oppressed workers of the industrialised North, etc. ad nauseam.
To fit the first part of his trilogy, the story has to be set in the 1930’s where slavery had been banned in no small part due to that wickedly belligerent President Lincoln, another Republican determined to impose his unilateralist view of the world on others irregardless of their specific cultural differences. But in Lars? movie, the slavery continues in this particular place which is not that odd, at least not compared to the rest of the story.
Then in this blissful state of enlightened slavery idealistic but heavy handed foreigners arrive to ?liberate? the slaves; note the quotation marks, this is art you know. And naturally mayhem follows.
Obviously, this is a story about Iraq. All was nice and quiet for years, Saddam and his henchmen were going about their jobs filling mass graves with Iraqis, when all of a sudden they were brutally invaded and democracy forced upon them. Now, how can we expect something like that to end well? Just because it did the last time we forced democracy on liberated and even defeated countries after WW II, it is by no means certain that it will work again. At least we should not expect any gratitude from the Iraqis in the future as the French and Germans do their outmost to show at any given chance, not least in film festivals like Cannes.
Well, the movie itself may be good, even if the story is rotten. Gone with the wind is a case in point. But it will probably say more to those on the Left who opposed the war in Iraq. To the rest us of Danes, the soldiers risking their lives in Iraq helping build democracy there, the 75 pct. who in a survey conducted in January even before the Iraqi election supported our military presence in Iraq and the majority of the electorate who in February re-elected our pro-war government, the movie is probably less soul-searching.