Photo Credit: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images
When Danish director Lars von Trier was at the Cannes Film Festival two years ago, he polarized audiences with the purposely provocative film Antichrist. This year, his film Melancholia is earning raves from Cannes audiences -- but now it's the notoriously out-there filmmaker's seemingly pro-Nazi comments that are causing an angry uproar.
At a press conference following the Wednesday premiere of Melancholia, von Trier baffled the crowd -- including the film's star, Kirsten Dunst -- by proclaiming that he was "really a Nazi" and that he sympathized with Hitler. In response, the Cannes Board of Directors issued a statement this morning saying, "The Board of Directors firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars von Trier a persona non grata at the Festival de Cannes, with effect immediately."
In a rambling monologue at the press conference, von Trier dug himself into a hole that he could not get out of, even as Dunst gently tried to get him to stop. After confessing that it gave him "pleasure" to discover that he's "really a Nazi," von Trier said: "I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things -- yes, absolutely... Hitler is not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him and sympathize with him a little bit." He tried to reassure the shocked crowd by saying, "I'm not for the Second World War. I'm not against Jews," -- but then continued to shoot himself in the foot by making fun of Jewish director Susanne Bier and calling the Israelis a "pain in the ass."
Von Trier has a reputation as a provocateur (in his films and in his life), and he is noted for his outrageous comments. Crazy behavior from von Trier at press conferences is nothing new. Was this all some kind of misguided joke? Did he hope people would laugh? Looking at the clip, he seems to think he is being funny, but the jokes are falling on the crowd like a lead balloon, and Dunst starts to look visibly uncomfortable as the rambling monologue goes on.
Yesterday, von Trier issued a brief apology: "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."
Von Trier has since elaborated in an interview with the L.A. Times. "I must say that I believe strongly that the Holocaust is the worst crime against humanity ever, and I do not sympathize with Hitler one second," von Trier says. "I'm really sincere when I say I don't really know what hit me. I can understand if you take things out of context. This was very sarcastic and very rude, but that's very Danish. I'm very sorry that it's being taken the wrong way."
Melancholia will remain in competition, but von Trier is forbidden from attending the the awards ceremony to pick up any prizes.
Von Trier, director of such provocative films as Breaking the Waves (starring Emily Watson), Dancer in the Dark (starring Bjork and Catherine Deneuve), Dogville (with Nicole Kidman and Lauren Bacall), tells the L.A. Times: "Sometimes I hurt people on purpose, when there's provocation that I want to get through that has a meaning. This doesn't have a meaning. I've studied how bad the Jews have been treated in (places such as) Poland and France. This is something that matters very much to me. And this was an idiotic way to behave. I'm just an idiot that should just say home in Denmark and never talk to anybody."
Watch von Trier's controversial Cannes comments below: