'I Understand Hitler': Lars Von Trier Confounds Stars, Press at Cannes [UPDATE]

The post-Melancholia press conference this morning was going swimmingly. Maybe too swimmingly. The stars (Dunst, Gainsbourg) were there, members of the fine supporting cast (Hurt, Kier, Skarsgård) were there, and von Trier was there, looking sporty and happy in a simple black T-shirt. He jovially fielded questions about the artists who inspired him while he was making the movie (Wagner, Breugel, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, Bergman) and about whether or not he was happy with the film: "I'm not really sure. Maybe it's crap. Of course, I hope not. But there's quite a big possibility that this might be" -- he pauses -- "really not worth seeing." I can assure you he's wrong there, but never mind, because then von Trier hurled a bottle rocket.

Late in the press conference, after von Trier spoke eloquently about the nature of sad stuff in art ("Melancholia is in all art that I like, and I'm sure it is part of all good art"), and explaining that his latest film is not as much about the end of the world as it is about "a state of mind," about "longing," English film critic Kate Muir asked a question about his German heritage. Von Trier then steered the press conference in a whole new direction -- maybe onto a whole new planet.

"I think I was a Jew for a long time," he said. "I was very happy being a Jew." Then, after making a sly reference to fellow Dane filmmaker Susanne Bier, who often speaks candidly about her Jewish identity in interviews, von Trier announced that even though he always really wanted to be a Jew, he discovered that he's really a Nazi. "Which also gave me some pleasure," he added.

"What can I say? I understand Hitler," he continued. "I think he did some wrong things, absolutely, but -- I can see him in his bunker in the end." The roomful of journalists sat, stunned. It appeared that von Trier, who seemed to be in jolly good spirits for a notoriously depressive Dane, intended this as an joke, albeit an ill-advised one. But how was he going to dig himself out? He added that Hitler was "not what you would call a good guy" and babbled further, explaining that he's very much "for" Jews. "All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain the ass."

Von Trier knew he was in a pickle, and asked aloud, "How do I get out of this sentence?" But there was more: When one last journalist asked von Trier if he considered Melancholia to be his Hollywood blockbuster, he replied, "We Nazis tend to do things on a great scale."

The joke fell flat, but by that time von Trier's indiscreet chatter had been eclipsed by the thundercloud of disbelief and disapproval on Dunst's face as she sat on the director's left, listening to his increasingly loopy rambling. During the press conference, Dunst had given every indication that she'd enjoyed working with von Trier, who has a reputation for making his actresses miserable. In this case, maybe, he pushed her goodwill too far. Von Trier embarrassed himself, but it wouldn't be surprising if he alienated Dunst for good. Every press-conference attendee loves a freak show -- we're all looking for great copy -- but this one ended on a note that was just weird and sad. Melancholic, even.

Watch Von Trier's controversial press conference below.

UPDATE: Lars Von Trier has apologized for his statements at Cannes. "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." Click here for more, including a statement from the Cannes Film Festival. [via Deadline]

RELATED: Stephanie Zacharek's review of Melancholia

Read more of Movieline's coverage from Cannes 2011 here.

[Photo credit: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images]


  • Julia says:

    What a BS piece of crap of an ignorant american who called herself a "movie critic" haha what a blague..no wonder Godard, LVT and many others smart and great artists despise you !
    LVT is a master filmaker, he makes movie masterpieces.
    If you don't get irony, dark-twisted jokes, provocation well i feel sorry for you.
    If Kirsten Dunst doesn't want to work for him anymore, big deal a long list of as much if not more successful, talented actresses will do..the girl should be happy she worked on a Lars Von Trier movie, i bet she considers herself very very very lucky.

  • G says:

    I feel sorry for any person who finds Nazi "jokes" in a highly Jewish business event funny. How dare you call yourself an American "movie blog commenter." No wonder everyone and their mother probably despises you.

  • Brian says:

    Julia=Ann Coulter, who is now a huge Von Trier fan.
    How is it that a hack who has never had a successful movie manages to receive so much media attention? Aside from making horrible movies, his movies make almost nothing at the box office. The total worldwide gross for all of his movies combined amounts to less than the value of Seinfeld's second house. Uwe Boll's movies have made more than Von Trier's, and they are certainly no more unpleasant to watch. If you're going to give this toe rag attention, give some love to Uwe Boll while you're at it.

  • takethecake says:

    @ Brian,
    Obviously you don't know about Von Trier's production company which makes big profit off Euro-art porn (no joke!). Von Trier's not in it for the money--his films are just alternative-cinema, and I appreciate him for opening up filmmaking to the possibilities. Now whether or not Von Trier's works are considered "art," that's up for debate and really a matter of taste, but I wouldn't discredit it just because it doesn't suit your particular palette.

  • blizzard bound says:

    Wow. That poor woman. She tried to save him, too, when she suggested he stop with that smile on her face.
    Personally, I have never understood the appeal of LVT films. They are all so painfully misogynist. I saw the first two and that was enough for me. I am baffled by actresses who feel it would boost their careers to work with him.
    As for the whole Nazi/Jew slant of his babbling, I am astonished.

  • KevyB says:

    Hee! I officially heart you!
    LVT's been a longtime hack, and even arthouse darlings "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark" are both poorly directed. Even if you disagree with that, he has a looooong history of saying imbecilic things, especially anti-American things, so I don't really feel sorry for Dunst. She CHOSE to work with this bunghole. If you keep selling yourself without drawing the line somewhere, then you get what you get.

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