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Cannes 2011: In interview, Lars von Trier says he may be done with news conferences -- and that he doesn't deserve a Palme d'Or

May 19, 2011 |  6:17 am


On Wednesday, Lars von Trier set off a worldwide firestorm when, in his typically provocative way, he attempted to make a number of jokes about being a Nazi who sympathized with Hitler.

Less than 24 hours later, he added contrition to his repertoire, without letting up too much on the provocation.

In one of his first interviews since the controversy exploded Wednesday at a news conference for his Cannes film "Melancholia" -- and on the same day the festival declared him persona non grata -- Von Trier came off like a man who regretted the whole incident even as he seemed to take a small amount of playful enjoyment in the fact that, once again, he had gotten a lot of people worked up.

He began the conversation with an apology considerably more elaborate than the terse statement sent out on his behalf by his publicity team Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm really sincere when I say I don't really know what hit me. I can understand if you take things out of context. This was very sarcastic and very rude, but that's very Danish. I'm very sorry that it's being taken the wrong way," he said from beneath a straw hat as he sat in the garden of a hotel in Mougins, a town about six miles north of Cannes, where he stays during the festival. "I must say that I believe strongly that the Holocaust is the worst crime against humanity ever, and I do not sympathize with Hitler one second."

He did make light of the email statement Wednesday in which he apologized, saying it didn't come with much feeling behind it. "All apologies to me are nonsense. It's saying 'I did something wrong,' but what does that help? I think it makes the whole situation much worse." Why, then, did he send it out? "It's something called damage control."

Von Trier has been known to take shots at everything  from fellow filmmakers to American values, cultivating an image of the auteur shock jock. But he said that, despite the fraught nature of the Nazi comments, they were far from substantively motivated. "I didn't want to hurt anyone at all [with this]. Sometimes I hurt people on purpose, when there's provocation that I want to get through that has a meaning. This doesn't have a meaning." He continued, "I've studied how bad the Jews have been treated in [places such as]  Poland and France. This is something that matters very much to me. And this was an idiotic way to behave."

But for all his remorse, he said he believes that at least part of why the incident became such a live wire was because of the country in which he made the statements. "The reason why it's so big, especially here, is that France has had a problematic relationship with Jews, and you [as an interview subject] shouldn't touch such things. But on the other hand, being a cultural radical, you should touch such things."

He said he felt the flap was blown out of proportion by one group in particular: the Cannes Film Festival. Organizers called the filmmaker Wednesday to express their concern, and also released a statement that they were "disturbed" by the remarks. It's a reaction Von Trier has trouble understanding. "It's a major thing at the festival, and very problematic for the festival. And that's a little strange, because even if I was Hitler, what does that have to do with my film being here? It's a festival for films, not for directors," he said.

In a similar vein, he continued to stand by his belief that one should separate art from artist. "Albert Speer was for me a great artist, and we must accept that there can be big artists, like Riefenstahl, that suddenly get their room to work because of a dictatorship. There are people who want me to take that back, but for the sake of truth I can't do that."

But when asked whether he felt Cannes jurors upset by his comments could make the same distinction with his work, he replied flatly, "I don't deserve to win a [Palme d'Or]."

He also said he didn't know if he would ever sit for another news conference. "I'm not sure I'll leave Denmark again," he said, though anyone who knows Von Trier knows that tongue-holding is not something he practices often. He did say he was eager to return to his home country, where he plans on shooting both a soft-core and hard-core porn movie.

"I want to be surrounded by porn people who love me for what I am, who say, 'Where do you want the erection, where do you want the penetration.' Where it's not complicated. There wouldn't be a porn star running out there saying 'Lars said this or Lars said that.'"

As for "Melancholia," most of the interview was given over to the question of the day, though he did talk a bit about how he wanted to make a film about depression with a supernatural gloss.

Finally, the director said his own Jewish background  -- his father,  Ulf, was Jewish, although the director learned as an adult that the man was not his biological parent -- complicates the question of what he does and doesn't feel comfortable saying about Jews. "Half my life I've made very many Jewish jokes because when you are Jewish, you're allowed to do that. And now I feel kind of in-between."

But then he seemed to undercut the sensitivity of the moment when he added, "I'm very much into the Jewish stuff. Even when I found out I'm not Jewish by my genes, all my children have Jewish names. I'm actually" he pauses -- "too Jewish." And then realizing how that could be misconstrued, he said, "Oh ...", using an obscenity and leaning his forehead against the table in a playful what-have-I-done pose. "Don't write that." He added , "I'm just an idiot that should just say home in Denmark and never talk to anybody."


Cannes 2011: Lars von Trier retracts statement about Nazis

Cannes 2011: The six festival films you'll soon be hearing about

Cannes 2011: A video examination, Part 4 -- Did Lars von Trier go too far?

-- Steven Zeitchik in Mougins, France

Photo: Lars von Trier. Credit: EPA

Comments () | Archives (23)

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Shame on you Charlotte Gainsburg! With a Jewish father and and Israeli husband -- you did not leave the stage when these horrible remarks were made by Von Trier about 'loving' Hitler. You gave us an impression through your movies that you are a woman who stands for her strong opinions - in real life I saw yesterday a spineless opportunist woman. Sad.

I dont see why anyone is shocked by Lars' statement that he sympathizes with Hitler; Hitler killed vast numbers of people using poison gas, von Trier attempts to murder those unlucky enough to find themselves trapped in one of his overlong, slow, incredibly self-indulgent, pretentious, incoherent cinematic efforts with boredom. Like von Trier Hitler also was known to go on hour after hour boring people with his long self-obsessed monologues and apparently von Trier uses those endless diatribes as inspiration for films so tedious and painful to sit through that one sits in the theater wishing for anything, even a hasty transfer to the Russian Front, to relieve the interminable anxiety and angst as one feels one's brain freezing into paralysis. His films make Bergman look like a happy 'Kung Foo Panda'-style funfest. I guess he also sympathizes with Adolph about this Israel business. There those Jews go again, annoying all these good totalitarian socialists, national and otherwise, by their mere existence. Couldnt we just have a Final Solution to this Israel business and be done with it so that filmmakers like von Trier can lighten up and do a five-hour remake of 'Pipi Longstocking' where her murderous rages extend to her sexually abusive father, her ragingly jealous mother and her horse and which ends in a drawn-out murder-suicide pact in the classic von Trier style.

OK, so von Trier is declared "persona non grata" at Cannes for the kind of press conference trolling he does with monotonous regularity, but is quite happy to keep accepting his films that, IMO, are increasingly misogynistic and climaxed with outright torture porn. (Serious question: Would Cannes have screened Anti-Christ in competition f it was made by, say, Eli Roth for a major American studio?)

This is so overblown. He made a lousy joke and it got out of hand. I think we should get a little bit of perspective here.

I also find it deeply ironic that Cannes' statement proclaimed that the festival "provides artists from around the world with an exceptional forum to present their works and defend freedom of expression and creation," and that the festival board "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."

So, freedom of expression is great unless you make an ill-conceived, controversial joke, and then you are persona non grata.

What a farce.

Could you all chill out? He WAS JOKING. It makes me so angry, this deep desire to censor everything because people are too stupid to understand sarcasm or irony; that's far more fascist than anything Von Trier said.

And Mirielle, you take it to an even more extreme. You want Charlotte Gainsburg destroyed as well, because she doesn't follow your bizarre dogma that people shouldn't be entitled to be sarcastic; that they're only allowed to make jokes that reach your standard of decency.

Can we please get over this stupid sensationalist attempt at destroying this man's career? It's horrible to watch. The worst that should have came out of this is that he apologised for making a bad joke and creating an awkward moment. But this? It's vicious and it's horrible.

I love the internet and reactionary comments board postings. Oh wait, I don't - they give too much leeway to people quick to jump onto the controversy train. This isn't a post really to defend Von Trier. I've actually seen very few of his films and just find him artistically interesting as a director. I just find it so frustrating to read reactions that really have no service other than a emotional, reactional response without reason behind them.

First - Craig, you can't comment on this current film as you've not seen it, so don't know the content. And if the director wants to take his films into the pornographic arena, then who can argue? You don't have to watch them. The only people to complain will be those who choose not to see them and for some reason use that rational to rage that they exist. Yet they're not exposed to them. Weird.

Second - Skep41 - Everyone's a critic. Some better than others, it has to be said. Pointless self-gratifying rambling does not construe criticism, however. I'll suggest not subjecting yourself to directors you've established long ago, via their long and varied careers, that you don't enjoy. Life is easier that way.

Lastly - Mireille - it's very easy to aggrandise on the internet, but the truth of the matter is none of us know Von Trier, nor his relationship, which I trust is quite strong after two films, with his actresses. It's also worth noting heavily that Von Trier thought he was a Jew most of his life, and suffers from quite extreme depression. If you know anything of clinical depression, you'll know how some people are subject to occasional mania which is out of their control.

This doesn't excuse the comments, and I don't think Von Trier has really excused himself. Maybe Charlotte knows Von Trier a little bit more than you do, however. Worth thinking about. People are actually quite complex.

Looks like Malick is on to something. Stay away from the press in seclusion and let Brad Pitt promote your movie.

"I'm just an idiot that should just say home in Denmark and never talk to anybody." We should be so lucky. Not only is Lars von Trier a self-described Nazi his films are just painful to watch.

a depressive trapped in a room full of film writers on deadline!? nothing comes to mind more readily than oscar wilde's description of fox hunting, "the unspeakable in pursuit of the indedible."

Van Triers remarks sounded like the ravings of a disordered mind. He'll never live this down.

Lars was just being naughty. Geniuses are allowed to be children "beyond good and evil," free-associating without self-censorship. They add depth to our emotional lives and ought to be granted immunity from the scrutiny given politicians, especially when speaking ironically. And that goes double for the likes of a court-jester and provocateur like von Trier. Thank God he's around to offend us.

But I can see where the French would have the Jews on their conscience...

"I'm just an idiot that should just say home in Denmark and never talk to anybody."

Finally, one of his statements I can fully agree with.

It's interesting how French Cinema that never has a problem with extreme controversy, or blasphemy, as embodied by their own celebrated artists such as Goddard has made such a big deal out of a badly told self-depracating joke. Looks like this case is meant to deflect attenction from the dormant anti-semitism of the French public which has probably peaked as a result of the humiliation brought about by DSK, France's most high profile political star until 6 days ago, and a Jew.

He thinks he is a cultural radical?

I support Von Trier. Probably difficult to get along with, but he's a fabulous filmmaker and his comments made in jest are being overblown into some king of mass hysteria.

I don`t this Trier is a nazi, but sure he is an Idiot like a Nazi


I'm perfectly competent to comment on the Von Trier films I've seen -- and most of them I did have to sit through as it's generally considered good form for film critics to watch the films they write about.

But there's one rather odd statement you make that can't pass without a response. "And if the director wants to take his films into the pornographic arena, then who can argue? You don't have to watch them." No -- and I don't have to watch pornography involving children, animals, rape or sadistic torture. I can reconcile my belief in freedom of expression while loathing films that wallow in the abuse and degradation of women (which has become von Trier's default mode of "provocation").

The thing about defending free speech is you often end up defending people you wouldn't cross the road to pee on if their heads were on fire. And, yes, I find Anti-Christ a damn sight more offensive a troll-tastic press conference. YMMV; obvious the same can be said of the Cannes Film Festival's organisers.

What a cop-out to attribute all of his remarks to irony. It baffles me that some people are so misguided and insensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust. Von Trier remarks were inappropriate at best and for the people who come running to his defense claiming overreaction , please type the word "holocaust" in the image section of the google browser. What irony can be taken from that?

It's worth remembering that von Trier's first big arthouse hit Europa a.k.a. Zentropa was set in a kind of dreamscape of immediately-after-WW2-but-still-full-of-Nazis Germany. The film follows an American who's coming to help reconstruct Germany. Anyhow, the film's visually astonishing and can be just enjoyed on that level, but von Trier plays an overall nasty trick on the audience: all the Nazis we meet are good guys whereas all the Americans we meet are malevolent. It really ticks you off when you see it, but it's also brilliant. Your moral compass ends up so scrambled over the course of the film that you feel like you're drowning as you watch it, and then the film features at the end some amazing, graphic drowning sequences to kind of cement the point. What that point is remains obscure but you feel completely flattened by it. I can't wait to see it again soon to see what it looks like after these latest shenanigans

Cannes kicked out one of the most talented filmmakers in the world for a provocative, joking, irreverent, harmless, tangent, that had the international press laughing, knowing full well Lars Von Trier did not mean the things he was saying. Really? Then he apologized (unnecessarily-read his full quotes), and they still kicked him out? Freedom of expression and speech does not actually exist. The reality is, one must be politically correct at all times or suffer persecution from certain groups. One can say whatever they like so long as the statements agree with the polically correct institution. The closest thing we have to the Nazi persecution of years ago can be seen so ironically in the rhetoric and outrage of certain groups which persecute those who do not bow down to their views. Lars Von Trier is too good for Cannes anyway. His persecution has been comical and whether he intended to or not, he's brilliantly exposed the fraud and hypocrisy of the 'powers' that be.

Speaking as a secular Jew, I wasn't offended in the least by LVT's comments. He has a wry sense of humor. He's self-reflective. And, yeah, he's a provocateur. But can no one read 'tone' any more? Have we all spent so much time enmeshed in the internet that we no longer know how to interpret irony and teasing? Is it really so horrible to say that Hitler was a man, who can be understood, rather than a demonic incarnation? I'm inclined to think that LVT, the artist, is much more thoughtful than most of the people who dismiss im.

We should be done (forever) with him.

Lars von Trier he gets a pass on this one because his a jew failing in making a nazi joke at the same time trying to talk about his appreciation of the nazi aestetichs and architecture, while at the same trying to say something about humans inherited evil that under the right circumstances can turn everyone into another nazi or another Hitler. Therefore, understanding Hitler is understanding the human species and the evil that lurkes within us.

That subject is basically what all of Von Triers movies are about.

As he said himself, "all people have 5% nazi in them and all nazis have 5% human in them"

That was his point which he failed so miserably to deliver, before trying to get out by using humor which apparently didnt help much.


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