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Cannes Festival Censures Von Trier For Nazi/Hitler Comments; Melancholia Eligible for Palme d'Or

by Anne Thompson
May 19, 2011 11:38 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

The Cannes Film Festival has banned Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier for saying at Wednesday's press conference (video below) that he sympathizes with Adolf Hitler, which he later apologized for. The Fest released a statement that von Trier is "persona non grata" at Cannes because of his comments. Thus far there seems to be no precedent for this sort of censure by the Cannes Fest. UPDATE: Here's AFP's round-up on the story.

Thompson on Hollywood

UPDATE: At press round tables in Mougins Thursday, von Trier responded: "If any of you would like to hit me, you're perfectly welcome," he told journalists. "I must warn you that I might enjoy it." He went on to add fuel to the flame by saying:

"I think the Holocaust is the worst crime in humanity that I can remember." His comments blew up because, he said: "I believe that it's an especially delicate subject down here, because the French have a history of being extremely cruel to the Jews."

Coverage of the press conference is here; the problematic statements are quoted below:

The festival has played 12 of von Trier's films and gave him the Palme d'Or for Dancing in the Dark in 2000 after awarding him the Grand Prix for Breaking the Waves. The festival helped to turn him into the international filmmaker he is today--and Fest director Thierry Fremaux told me that he fought to allow von Trier to walk the Palais red carpet with his stars Wednesday night, where the film received some applause. (A gala after-party was canceled.) The fest waited until Thursday after the showing to make its statement:

"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."

Fremaux told me that they drafted the statement so that it applies to now, not the future. Fest director Gilles Jacob talks about his Jewish background in his new memoir Citizen Cannes. Clearly the fest organizers did not take von Trier's comments as a joke. They did watch video to see the comments in context. At the press conference, the impish director was trying to be provocative and scandalize people--journalists were laughing and rolling their eyes, although Kirsten Dunst tried to restrain him. It is unclear what the impact will be on von Trier's current Melancholia, which the fest press office maintains is still eligble for contention for the Palme d'Or, although a win is improbable now. I do not know if my booked interview with von Trier Saturday outside Cannes will go forward as planned. (Magnolia will release the film stateside.)

The offensive comments came at the end of a rambling press conference during which von Trier needled not only Stellan Skarsgard and Udo Kier but absent colleague Susanne Bier; their children are close friends:

“I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was happy being a Jew, Then later I found out that I wasn’t a Jew. I really wanted to be, but found out I was really a Nazi because my family was German. I understand Hitler, but I definitely see some wrong things. I just think I understand the man. He’s not what I call a good guy. I’m not for the Second World War. I’m for Jews, well maybe except for the Israelis - sometimes they’re a problem…”

UPDATE: Von Trier's mother told him on her deathbed that his father was not Jewish; until then von Trier had thought he was. Von Trier issued an apology, stating:

“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.”

Here's the press conference:

[Photo of the hand of Lars von Trier by Eugene Hernandez.]

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More: Festivals, Video, Cannes, Interviews


  • Stan | May 19, 2011 4:54 AMReply

    I posted on the relation of this incident to this Tocqueville quote:

    “You are free not to think like us, your life, your property, everything will be untouched but from today you are a pariah among us. You will retain your civic privileges but they will be useless to you, for if you seek the votes of your fellow citizens, they will not grant you them and if you simply seek their esteem, they will pretend to refuse you that too. You will retain your place amongst men but you will lose the rights of mankind. When you approach your fellows, they will shun you like an impure creature; and those who believe in your innocence will be the very people to abandon you lest they be shunned in their turn. Go in peace; I grant you your life but it is a life worse than death."

    Check out the post at:

  • MissM13 | May 19, 2011 3:54 AMReply

    Of course they would wait until after the movie premiered (very successfully).

    Wonder if artists/directors will step up for him like they did Polanski, who was arrested when he travelled to the Zurich Film Festival.

    Is it a question of Nazi comments vs Raping a child? It’s a sad world.

  • MissM13 | May 19, 2011 3:51 AMReply

    Of course they would wait until after the movie premiered (very successfully).

    Wonder if artists/directors will step up for him like they did Polanski, who was arrested when he travelled to the Zurich Film Festival.

    Is it a question of Nazi comments vs Raping a child? It’s a sad world.!/MissM_13

  • Terry Curtis Fox | May 19, 2011 3:32 AMReply

    Fascinating that just like Fassbinder, whose parents were famously anti-Nazi but whose later work showed disturbing anti-Semitism, von Trier is also engaged in an Oedipal battle. Do I remember correctly that he also rebelled against their secularism. Of course, he's more extreme than Fassbinder. But then, he's also much, much less of an artist. Given up von Trier (which I did after the execrable "Breaking the Waves" was as easy as giving up van Karajan.

  • mary | May 19, 2011 3:19 AMReply

    Lars von Trier responds to the ban. (As expected, he says that he is definitely not Mel Gibson)

  • Bryan C. | May 19, 2011 3:17 AMReply

    Is the ban supposed to be permanent or just for this year's festival?

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