Von Trier's Nazi-related joking stuns Cannes

Danish director and provocateur Lars von Trier waded into new controversy at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, as he unveiled his new film Melancholia.
Director Lars Von Trier, left, delivered a rambling joke about being a Nazi at a Cannes press conference Wednesday, as actor Kirsten Dunst looked on. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Danish director and provocateur Lars von Trier waded into new controversy at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, as he unveiled his new film Melancholia.

In reply to a question about his German parentage, he gave a long, rambling answer in which he joked about being a Nazi and potentially shooting a movie titled The Final Solution.

Von Trier, who defiantly refused to defend his disturbing film Antichrist  at Cannes in 2009, won the festival's Palme d'Or in 2000 for his Dancer in the Dark.

Melancholia, about a woman planning her wedding as the world anticipates an apocalyptic event, drew praise for its "stunning cinematic vision."

But his remarks at the press conference after the film's screening were met with embarrassed shrugs by the press.

"For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew. Then I  met (Danish and Jewish director) Susanne Bier and I wasn't so happy," von Trier began, with a cherubic smile.

"But then I found out I was actually a Nazi. My family were German. And that also gave me some pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things, yes absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end. I sympathize with him a bit."

Von Trier continued: "I'm not against Jews, not even Susanne Bier…In fact I'm very much in favour of them. All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain in the ass, but…"

He then joked that his next movie could be titled The Final Solution or be a porn film "with lots of uncomfortable sex."

Enfant terrible reputation

Melancholia cast members Charlotte Gainsbourg, left, and Kirsten Dunst are shown Wednesday in Cannes, France. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

The film's stars, Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, sitting on either side of von Trier during the press conference, looked on in shocked silence as the filmmaker dug himself deeper with each statement.

Living up to his enfant terrible reputation, von Trier risks detracting from Melancholia, a film that — like Terrence Malick's TheTree of Life, which screened at Cannes Tuesday —  deals with some of life's big questions.

Melancholia stars Dunst as Justine, a bride who cannot shake off crippling depression even at her own wedding, and Gainsbourg as her sister Claire, who becomes increasingly anxious as a planet called Melancholia appears to be on a collision course with Earth.

Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland plays Claire's husband and John Hurt appears as Justine's father .

"To me it's not so much a film about the end of the world. It's a film about a state of mind," von Trier said. "I've been through some melancholic stages of my life so it's obvious to do this."

Apologies from von Trier

Later on Wednesday, festival organizers issued a statement saying they were "disturbed" by von Trier's statements and had demanded an explanation. 

Von Trier then apologized for his remarks, saying he had "let himself be egged on by a provocation."

"I am not anti-Semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi," he said.

Earlier this week, von Trier and Martin Scorsese confirmed they are teaming up for a follow-up toThe Five Obstructions, von Trier's 2003 documentary deconstructing the filmmaking process.