CANNES, France – Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier was booted out of the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday after a bizarre, rambling news conference in which he said he sympathizes with Adolf Hitler.
The comments ignited shock from the moment they spilled out of the director’s mouth Wednesday – causing Kirsten Dunst, an actress in his new film “Melancholia,” to lean over and whisper to von Trier: “Oh my God, this is terrible.”
Festival President Gilles Jacob said von Trier had “stained the reputation” of the event and would be banned for the rest of this year, although he would not elaborate on whether the filmmaker might be allowed back in the future.
It was an unprecedented move by the festival, which in 2000 bestowed its highest honor on von Trier’s earlier film, “Dancer in the Dark.”
“Melancholia” remains in competition for all Cannes prizes – including the top Palme d’Or award – but if it wins any he will not be allowed to attend Sunday’s closing ceremony.
At a news conference for the film Wednesday, von Trier spoke about his German heritage in a rambling speech.
“What can I say? I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely. But I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end,” he said.
“He’s not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him, and I sympathize with him a little bit. But come on, I’m not for the Second World War, and I’m not against Jews.”
Von Trier said afterward he had been joking and later issued an apology, adding: “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 (stuff), you know?”
Jewish groups applauded the festival’s response.
“This is a welcome action, which declares to the world that the suffering of victims is not a fit subject for mockery or casual self-promotion,” said Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.
Von Trier has been a festival favorite with nine films in the Cannes main competition since 1984, among them “Dogville,” “Manderlay” and “Breaking the Waves,” which won the second-place grand prize in 1996.
Banderas, Almodovar reunite
After decades of playing Latin lovers, Spanish heartthrob Antonio Banderas returns to his roots – and the director who helped launch his career – with a slow-burning role in Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In.”
“I could almost compare it to a return to my country, to my roots, with all its misery, with all its greatness, all its contradictions and everything that goes along with that” Banderas said at a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival, where the movie was screened Thursday.
“That’s what returning to Almodovar is, a homecoming.”
It has been 22 years since the two luminaries of Spanish cinema have worked together.
In “The Skin I Live In,” Banderas plays a psychotic plastic surgeon who devises a Machiavellian plot to exact revenge on the man he believes raped his daughter.