"I beat my kids regularly. Seems to do the trick. And I deprive them of meals."
SILENCE IS GOLDEN Where The Artist is concerned, Jean-Luc Godard’s celebrated adage should be amended to “cinema is truth at 22 fps.”
When Brad Pitt said the above words at the press conference for Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life — in which he plays the stern father of three boys in 1950s Texas — nobody tweeted the headline BRAD PITT BEATS HIS CHILDREN.
That's because at that point in the 64th Cannes Film Festival (May 11-22), people could still recognize comments made in jest. Just 48 hours later, when Denmark's Lars von Trier — who speaks English well but not as well as Pitt — dug himself into a deep and unfortunate semantic hole, the media declared it International Out-of-Context Day.
Trier's Melancholia — in which Earth is fated to collide with the title planet and for which Kirsten Dunst won the Best Actress award — was one of my favorite films in this year's festival. I could have sworn that Trier is best described as an appropriateness-impaired creative rascal. The twittering blogosphere and controversy-starved wire services decided to relay his alleged sudden conversion to Nazism.
Isolated in print or as a YouTube snippet, Trier's outlandish — and clearly facetious — pronouncements backfired with a vengeance. In an attempt to explain his own now-you're-Jewish-now-you're-German heritage, he may have seemed to give Adolf Hitler a hall pass but went nowhere near saying children should be indoctrinated with swastika-shaped breakfast cereal.
Pitt, who ascribed to himself with deadpan delivery the actions of his character in the film that won the Palme d'Or on Sunday night (May 22), didn't think he'd be taken seriously. Trier didn't think. Yet unlike the characters in this year's Competition line-up, he didn't lock a boy in his basement to fulfill his pedophile urges (Michael, from Austria's Markus Schleinzer), or jam a fork into somebody's eye (Drive, a sly and action-packed LA-set venture from Best Director winner Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling), or perform a vaginoplasty on a man against his will (The Skin I Live In, from Pedro Almodóvar).
Malick's long-gestating cinematic essay about the Big Questions — Why are we here? Why do good people die? What's with Nature with a capital "N" and Nurture with a capital "N"? — is surely the best film ever to explore the unspoken tensions and changing fortunes of an all-American nuclear family while also addressing the non-verbal communication skills of dinosaurs back when they were in charge.
It worked for J.D. Salinger and for Stanley Kubrick, and keeping an obsessively low profile worked for Malick, who's reported to have been in Cannes but preferred to stay out of the public eye.
Pitt, who described his director as a jovial fellow who laughs all the time, said he thinks that "Terry believes he's building a house" and doesn't feel he has to sell it, too, once it's built. "Some people think this is an act of some kind," said one of the film's producers, "but Terry is sincerely humble. He wants to let the work speak for itself."
So now "the work" can tell people, "Hey! I've got a Golden Palm!"