Lars von Trier banned from 2011 Cannes Film Festival for Nazi comments

May 19, 2011

Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier was banned from the 2011 Cannes film festival for comments he made during a news conference showcasing his new film, ‘Melancholia’. As Sarah Anne Hughes reported:

Lars von Trier has been expelled from the Cannes Film Festival after the director said he sympathized with Hitler and called himself a Nazi at a news conference Wednesday.

The remarks were made at a press conference for the film “Melancholia,” in response to a question about von Trier’s German roots: “I really wanted to be a Jew, and then I found out that I was really a Nazi, because, you know, my family was German. Which also gave me some pleasure. ... What can I say? I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely. … But I sympathize with him a bit.”

“I’m not against Jews. ... I am very much for Jews. No, not too much, because Israel is a pain in the [expletive],” von Trier said before he finished the rambling remarks by saying, “Okay, I’m a Nazi.”

The comments were immediately criticized by the festival’s organizers, who said in a statement they were “disturbed” by the director’s remarks.

Von Trier apologized for his comments, which he claimed were meant as a joke, in a statement on Wednesday: “If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize. I am not anti-Semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi.”

When asked about his remarks after the news conference, von Trier said his words came without thought, which did little to calm the furor which his comments created. As AP explained:

“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 said. “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?”

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, which is based in Paris, said the comments were an example of the growing phenomenon of what he called “respectable anti-Semitism.”

“Von Trier’s remarks serve as another reminder of the seeming comfort that anti-Semites feel expressing their prejudices in public gatherings,” Kantor said in a statement. “There must be consequences for these types of racist tirades, or it will just continue and escalate.”

Dunst, Gainsbourg and other “Melancholia” co-stars, including John Hurt and Stellan Skarsgard, sat stiff and stony-faced through most of von Trier’s comments. At one point, though, Dunst leaned over and whispered to von Trier, “Oh my God, this is terrible.”

Elsewhere at the Cannes festival, a record breaking four female filmmakers are competing for the top festival prize of the Palme d’Or. As Ann Hornaday reported:

In a week when men behaving badly dominate the headlines, a refreshing sense of cognitive dissonance has set in at the 64th Cannes Film Festival.

Not only does the festival feature a record four female directors in contention for the coveted Palme d’Or — the festival’s grand prize, which will be bestowed on May 22. But some of this year’s most highly anticipated films by men, including such legendary figures as Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier and the Dardennes brothers, have shared a startling common thread in the sensitivity with which they depict archetypal feminine impulses and female characters.

The uncanny thematic and even aesthetic motifs that have emerged over the past week are all the more vivid considering that, last year, not one woman was included in the competition program. Perhaps in response to the inevitable criticism that followed, Cannes chief Thierry Fremaux included the four female directors in this year’s slate, with far-ranging styles and thematic concerns.

An early film to divide audiences was “Sleeping Beauty,”Julia Leigh’s elegantly staged but substantively empty drama about a young Australian woman (“Sucker Punch’s”Emily Browning) who becomes a high-priced call girl catering to a particular sexual fetish. Leigh’s carefully composed erotic take on the historic fairy tale was presented here by filmic fairy godmother and feminist icon Jane Campion, which makes the movie’s exploitation of the male gaze and female passivity all the more troubling. (The fact that “Sleeping Beauty” was swiftly picked up by Sundance Selects bears witness to the fact that Leigh is far more canny a marketer than transgressive a thinker.)

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