This probably isn’t the last of Lars von Trier – according to him, his project with Martin Scorsese is still a go – but the ‘persona non grata’ filmmaker has found the need to explain himself once again, this time to The Hollywood Reporter. Von Trier apparently wants to make sure people understand he’s “absolutely no Mel Gibson,” whose The Beaver, I should add, received a standing ovation at its official Cannes screening.
Below are a few of von Trier’s remarks about the Nazi/Jew/Hitler controversy at the Cannes Film Festival’s press conference for his Melancholia, a doomsday psychological drama starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, and others:
“It’s a pity because (Jewish festival head) Gilles Jacob is a close personal friend of mine. What I said was completely stupid but I am absolutely no Mel Gibson … What I meant was I could imagine what it was like for Hitler in the bunker, making plans. Not that I would do what Hitler did. But it’s a pity if it means I will lose contact with Cannes.”
“I have to say I’m a little proud of being named a persona non grata. I think my family would be proud. I have a French order. Now they will likely tear it off my chest.”
“I hope not [that my films will not be banned forever from Cannes]. Because even if I was Hitler - and I must now state for the record I am not Hitler - but even if I was Hitler and I made a great film, Cannes should select it.”
“It sounds strange but I don’t like conflict. When I went into the press conference I felt like I should entertain people there. Everyone comes to see what crazy thing Lars is going to say. And then I started a sentence which I couldn’t get out of. At the time I didn’t think much about it. Everyone seemed to understand and they was laughter. It’s only afterwards, when you read it: ‘I sympathize with Hitler’ that I thought ‘oh boy.’"
Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia
More negative repercussions following ‘persona non grata’ Lars von Trier’s “I’m a Nazi” remarks at the Cannes Film Festival’s press conference for Melancholia:
In view of the unacceptable statements expressed by filmmaker Lars Von Trier at today’s press conference in the Cannes Film Festival and his evident Nazi declaration – which is offensive for the Jewish people and human kind in general, [Argentinean-based] Distribution Company SA, owner of the distribution rights for the film Melancholia in the Southern Cone [generally, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay], has decided to cancel the contract that linked it to the film.
We clearly condemn Mr. Lars Von Trier’s statements and will not support or release his film in the country.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the statement was signed by company chiefs Bernardo Zupnik and Paula Zupnik.
Lars von Trier, whose Dancer in the Dark won the Palme d’Or in 2000, is no stranger to controversy, though he probably wasn’t expecting to become “persona non grata” at this year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival.
Yesterday, while at a press conference for his latest effort, the doomsday family drama Melancholia starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, von Trier talked about his German ancestry and jokingly said he was a Nazi, going on to claim “I understand much about [Hitler] and I sympathize with him a little bit.”
Von Trier, whose wife is Jewish, later apologized.
Below is the press release from the Cannes Film Festival:
Cannes 19th May
The Festival de Cannes provides artists from around the world with an exceptional forum to present their works and defend freedom of expression and creation. The Festival’s Board of Directors, which held an extraordinary meeting this Thursday 19 May 2011, profoundly regrets that this forum has been used by Lars Von Trier to express comments that are unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity that preside over the very existence of the Festival.
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.
The festival’s Board of Directors have also – sensibly – decided that Melancholia remains in consideration in all categories, including the Palme d’Or.
However, if von Trier’s film wins anything the director won’t be allowed to hop onstage to accept his trophy.
“I don’t have so much to say, so I kind of have to improvise a little and just to let the feelings I have kind of come out into words,” von Trier later told The Associated Press. “This whole Nazi thing, I don’t know where it came from, but you spend a lot of time in Germany, you sometimes want to feel a little free and just talk about this (expletive), you know?”
Additionally, Melancholia star Kirsten Dunst told AP Television News “I understand why they had to make that decision,” while Danish Film Institute director Henrik Bo Nielsen said his organization would continue to fund the director’s future films, adding:
“It is unfortunate that great cinema should drown in such farce and controversy totally irrelevant to the film itself. But there’s nothing new in the fact that great artists make stupid and repugnant remarks.”
Photo: Magnolia Pictures
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lars von Trier, Kirsten Dunst
At the Cannes Film Festival press conference for Melancholia – which features Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, and Udo Kier – while answering a journalist’s question about his origins, Lars von Trier said he believed he was a Jew for quite some time. Von Trier, who met his biological father only later in life, then added the following:
I really wanted to be a Jew, and then I found out I was really a Nazi because my family was German, Hartmann, which also gave me some pleasure. [Von Trier laughs. Kirsten Dunst, sitting next to him, doesn’t.] So, I’m I kinda of… What can I say… eh…
[With a serious face] I… I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, absolutely, but … but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end … [ Kirsten Dunst laughs nervously. She turns to Charlotte Gainsbourg and, laughing, says, “Oh, my God. This is terrible!"]
[Von Trier to Dunst] But there will come a point at the end of this. There will come …
No, I’m just saying that I think I understand the man. He’s not what you’d call a good guy, but I … but I understand much about him and I sympathize with him a little bit. But, c’mon, I’m not for the Second World War! [Kirsten Dunst looks increasingly edgy.] And I’m not against Jews – Susanne Bier is. No, not even Susanne Bier! [Some journalists laugh.] That was also a joke.
Of course, I’m very much for Jews. Well, not too much because the Israelis are a pain in the ass, but they’re still … How can I get out of this sentence?
Susanne Bier, by the way, is the director of this year’s Best Foreign Language Film winner, In a Better World.
As Brian Brooks reports at indieWIRE, von Trier then exclaimed:
“OK, I’m a Nazi. This movie was done on a great [sic] scale. Yeah, that’s what we Nazis do – we do things on a grand scale.”
Below, you can hear von Trier’s tirades and watch Kirsten Dunst’s various reactions from different angles. The video at the bottom is mostly in French.
Photo: Cannes Film Festival / Getty Images
Lars von Trier, Antichrist
Whether or not you think Lars von Trier’s series of Nazi/Jew tirades at the Cannes Film Festival’s Melancholia press conference sounds just like something out of Mel Brooks’ The Producers, von Trier has been forced to apologize for his remarks in a terse press release made public by the festival itself:
The Festival de Cannes was disturbed about the statements made by Lars von Trier in his press conference this morning in Cannes. Therefore the Festival asked him to provide an explanation for his comments.
The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology.
The direction of the Festival acknowledges this and is passing on Lars von Trier’s apology. The Festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects.
In the release sent out by Melancholia‘s American distributor, Magnolia Pictures, von Trier was quoted apologizing in the first person:
In connection to the Melancholia conference this morning, Lars von Trier has the following statement:
“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.” - Lars von Trier.
Whether or not von Trier intended the second half of the last line as a joke, who knows?
About Melancholia, von Trier said it’s a comedy and that “maybe it’s crap, actually.” The film is scheduled to open in the United States on November 4.
Photo: Antichrist (IFC Films)