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.]