Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Lars von Trier’s producing partner for the past 20 years, had been having a great Cannes up until the press conference for their competish film, “Melancholia,” on Wednesday, when Von Trier said he was a Nazi and expressed sympathy for Adolf Hitler, prompting the fest to declare him a persona non grata.
In terms of sales for their slate of projects, it had been the best Cannes in years for their company, Zentropa, which they set up in 1992, the year after their collaboration on Cannes Jury prize winner “Europa.”
“That Wednesday, we had all been celebrating, thinking that all we had to do was find the cufflinks and put on the tuxedo,” Aalbaek Jensen told Variety.
Just before the presser, Aalbaek Jensen met Von Trier and they agreed that, for the first time in years, they had a film that they both really believed had a good chance of winning an award.
“We agreed to play it as nice and easy as possible, and not to jeopardize the chance of a prize by trying to be too funny. That was the last thing we spoke about,” Aalbaek Jensen said.
As Aalbaek Jensen watched Von Trier from across the room at the press conference, he had sensed that trouble lay ahead.
“I could see he wasn’t on top of the situation,” he said. “He was in deep shit there. I know that look.”
After the event ended, Aalbaek Jensen asked Von Trier, “What the hell! What kind of interpretation of our deal was that?”
However, the producer knows Von Trier’s wayward ways all too well.
“He has, you could say, a light Tourette’s Syndrome,” he says. “When there is something he is not supposed to say, it seems to drive him to say it.”
Despite the trouble Von Trier’s words caused, Aalbaek Jensen is sticking by his partner.
“He said something stupid, but he is not someone who suddenly in the dark night has revealed himself as an anti-Semite. It is just Lars von Trier trying to be funny in his own quirky way,” he said.
Although it is too early to tell for sure, Aalbaek Jensen doesn’t believe there will be any lasting damage done to “Melancholia” and Zentropa.
“I have been in contact with most of our (distribution and co-production) partners and, thank God, they are happy about the movie,” he said.
“And, with all the international press here, (Von Trier) has had the opportunity to explain himself.”
Despite all that has happened, Aalbaek Jensen remains positive.
“The market has been extremely good,” he said. “People are buying, and the prices are back to where they were before the crisis. They are a lot of really good projects around, and positive buyers. There are reasons to be cheerful.”