Yesterday, 'Melancholia' director Lars von Trier caused quite a stir at the Cannes Film Festival with a series of thoughtless remarks where he called himself a Nazi who "understands Hitler ... I sympathize with him a bit."
Soon after, the director issued an apology, saying, "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."
However, that was not enough for the festival, which has expelled the director for his remarks. "The board of directors firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars Von Trier persona non grata at the Festival de Cannes, with effect immediately," festival organizers said in a statement Thursday from Cannes.
A spokesperson for the festival said von Trier's acclaimed 'Melancholia' would remain in competition. Prior to his comments, many were calling the film a serious contender for the Palme d'Or. For a full rundown on the von Trier controversy, read on.
In context, the comments Von Trier made at the 'Melancholia' press conference read more as an attack on Danish director Susanne Bier, who won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year for 'In a Better World' and directed the acclaimed 2004 film 'Brothers,' which was remade as an American film in 2009 starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman, than they did as an actual representation of his beliefs.
"For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew, then I met Susanne Bier (who is Jewish) and I wasn't so happy," von Trier said. "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 sympathize with him a bit."
Of course, he didn't stop there: "I don't mean I'm in favor of World War II and I'm not against Jews, not even Susanne Bier. In fact I'm very much in favor of them. All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain in the ass but..."
Controversial press conferences are the norm for the 'Dancer in the Dark' director, who is so well-known for saying off-color things that The Hollywood Reporter compared his press conferences to a "a dark stand-up routine."
While his comment made Cannes audiences a bit uncomfortable, many in the media laughed "with the sort of chuckle that gets caught in the throat." Others, including 'Melancholia' stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, were reportedly dumbstruck.
Von Trier quickly apologized. Acknowledging his statement, the festival issued comment, saying, "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."
The festival's decision to ban the von Trier was greeted enthusiastically by The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, who had condemned the director's comments as "repulsive" and "exploitation of victims' suffering for self-serving promotion and publicity."
"The organizers of the Cannes Film Festival have eloquently taken a determined moral stand against cavalier expressions of hate and insensitivity to those brutalized by the Nazis – Jew and non-Jew," Elan Steinberg, vice president of American Gathering said in a statement. "We cannot look into Von Trier's heart to judge the sincerity of the 'apology' he issued. Only his future words and actions can tell us whether he understands the hurt he has caused."
Check out the 'Melancholia' trailer below: