Lars Von Trier Banned from Cannes for Nazi Comments

     May 19, 2011


Which is more likely: That filmmaker Lars Von Trier, known for making provocative statements, decided to come out at Cannes as a secret Nazi-sympathizer or that he was making a bad joke in response to dull press conference questions?  The Cannes Film Festival has apparently decided it’s the former and banned the Danish director from the festival indefinitely by declaring him “persona non grata”.  While Von Trier’s new film, Melancholia, is still eligible for the Palme d’Or, Von Trier will be unable to receive it if the film wins.

Hit the jump for what Von Trier said yesterday, his apology, the statement from Cannes, and my thoughts on the festival’s hypocrisy.

lars-von-trier-01Here’s what Von Trier told reporters at the Melancholia press conference yesterday:

“For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew,” he began, “then I met (Danish and Jewish director) Susanne Bier and I wasn’t so happy. 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.”

Von Trier qualified that “I don’t mean I’m in favor of World War II and I’m not against Jews, not even Susanne Bier” before digging himself deeper. “In fact I’m very much in favor of them. All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain in the ass but…”

“Now how can I get out of this sentence? Ok. I’m a Nazi.”

This diatribe was preceded by Von Trier saying that his next project might be a 3-4 hour porn film featuring Melancholia co-stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourgh and it will have “lots of uncomfortable sex.”  His Nazi rant was followed by him saying, “Yes. We Nazis like to do things on a big scale. Maybe I could do The Final Solution.”

You can argue that Von Trier’s comments were in bad taste, but I think that if you look at Von Trier’s films and his past interviews, you can see that these kind of comments—not the content, but the tone—are par for the course.  This is a man who tattooed the word “Fuck” on his right hand, but I don’t think when he flashes his knuckles he’s instructing people to have intercourse.  Oddly, we’ve come to use “Nazi” and “Hitler” so interchangeably with the word “Evil”, that they’ve almost lost their meaning.  Politicians and pundits call each other “Nazis” on a regular basis and no one bats an eye.  I can understand Von Trier taking some heat for the Israel comment because as we all know, Israel is the most perfect country ever and it has never done anything wrong or controversial.

But of course the press, uncritically, took his statements at face value and faster than you could say “Heil Hitler”, Von Trier was now a Nazi sympathizer.  In response, he issued the following statement:

“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.”

While I’m not a fan of the “If someone was offended”-apology (because it’s a clear indicator that the person saying said apology isn’t actually sorry), he made it and that should have been the end of the story.

Not for Cannes.  Today, the festival banned Von Trier and said:

“The board of directors 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. The Board of Directors firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars von Trier a persona non grata at the Festival de Cannes, with effect immediately.”

This would be a defensible position for the festival were it not for one problem:


The festival had no problem inviting Mel Gibson to Cannes to promote The Beaver and giving him a standing ovation.  Here are some statements Gibson made, not a press conference, but when he thought no one was listening:

“You look like a fucking bitch in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it will be your fault.”

“You’re a fucking mentally deprived idiot. You’re a fucking using whore. I own you.”

“Jews are responsible for all of the wars in the world.”

And other reprehensible comments that would take me far too long to catalog.  Even worse than verbally abusing his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, he physically abused her as well.

But I don’t care about all of that because it’s not my position to judge the personal lives of people I don’t know or interact with on a daily basis.  We should be making judgments of their work because we’re not asking Mel Gibson or Von Trier to be our bastions of moral turpitude or to be our bestest friends.  We became interested in them because of the work they create, not the personal trainwrecks they create for themselves.  Cannes clearly has no interest in actually policing the behavior of everyone it invites and the banning of Von Trier is a case of “cover-your-ass” and a poor one at that.

  • David

    Matt: I dont really think that the comments made by Mel Gibson and the comments made by Von Trier really compare. For one, Von Trier was using the Cannes press conference as a sounding board to spew an extremely distasteful joke (also I dont think anybody thought that he was being serious–which kind of makes it more reprehensible in my eyes, that he was joking about understanding why someone would want to kill millions of jews).

    I do however think that Cannes completely over-reacted.

    But let’s not try to connect Mel Gibson’s rant with Von Trier’s, they are different and they should be treated as such.

  • PhantomPope

    Well said. Sounds like a badly timed joke

  • Super Duper

    Matt, you’re being a little dishonest here. You should post the entirety of Von Trier’s comments, which were quite longer and a LOT more crude than the sampling you gave here. Why only post a snippet (which doesn’t sound that bad) and re-post several of Gibson’s?

    I advise anyone reading this to check out Von Trier’s full comments, which make him sound like a possessed lunatic and not someone just making a few off-the-cuff remarks. Not sure if I’d have banned him, but if you’re going to make a point here Matt, you should use a bit less of that journalistic discretion and just report the facts. Your argument may still be right, but just not the way you presented it.

  • Alex–

    Von Trier was intentionally trying to piss jews off with his comments, he obviously resents their hollywood and festival influence. And he paid the price.

    • David

      Alex: I agree.

      While I do believe that Cannes punishment was overly harsh, he needed to be made an example of as that sort of rhetoric will not be tolerated.

  • Super Duper

    Here’s more of his comments, which as you can easily see, were not simply ‘taken out of context’ and used interchangeably with the word ‘evil’…. He was propagating a theme… nobody thinks that he’s a Nazi, but using the term (and concepts) for effect were in bad taste, especially as he did at the festival, not privately.

    “I really wanted to be a Jew, and then I found out that I was really a Nazi, because, you know, my family was German,” he had said. “Which also gave me some pleasure.”

    “For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew,” he began, “then I met (Danish and Jewish director) Susanne Bier and I wasn’t so happy. 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.”

    “But I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely,” he added. “But I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end. 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.”

    “I don’t mean I’m in favor of World War II and I’m not against Jews, not even Susanne Bier” before digging himself deeper. “In fact I’m very much in favor of them. All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain in the ass but…”

  • dannyboy3030

    this guy sounds like a new open mic comedian, who is trying to be abrasive on purpose, because he doesn’t know how to be funny

    • Austin

      haha, this guy? I don’t want to sound like a pretentious tool, but Von Trier is one of the greatest directors walking this earth. He’s more than “this guy” when you log onto a film news website…

  • The Train!

    we also need to consider that Europe takes this nazi stuff way more seriously than we do here, and that there are more curtailments on speech in the EU than there are in the US. we may believe that Cannes over-reacted, but we’re judging things through our own history and our culture, which was in part shaped by stronger speech protections.

    • Excpired

      “Israel is the most perfect country ever and it has never done anything wrong or controversial.” – Matt

      I sense that someone is a little bitter about Israel themselves. IF you knew anything about the way that Israel is portrayed in the media and the reality of the situation you wouldn’t be saying that. When the media reports 9 times out of 10 on the incidences between the IDF and Palestinian terrorists and the civilian casualties and then 9 times out of 10 doesn’t report on the times that Hamas is shooting rockets into schools and school buses indiscriminately and clearly intentionally is targeting civilians instead of fighting the IDF which would be an easier target, then the picture becomes much different.

      As for the comment above that says that Europe has a different history, its true. However, Europe also has a problem in that way that nobody likes to talk about the Holocaust (not even to know about it), which has given rise to a fresh wave of Anti-Semitism on the continent. Simultaneously the continent is becoming extremely anti-religious and has been violating the rights of Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. I only hope that this current trend doesn’t continue or we might be facing a new Holocaust. It is also important to understand that it wasn’t just Germany and Hitler who hated Jews, it was everyone on the continent. The British weren’t particularly loving of the Jews, nor was anyone else. The reason that France and Britain declared war on Germany wasn’t for the rights of Jews (especially since at the time they hadn’t even been mass murdered yet, it wasn’t until Hitler had no reason to care what the other countries thought about his policies since they were at war that he started shipping out Jews to get gassed) but it was because of the invasion of Poland. France and Britain just realized that if they didn’t do anything eventually Hitler would be knocking on their doors to. The fight for good and evil concept didn’t even come to fruition until the end of the war after everyone realized just how many people Hitler murdered.

  • Junierizzle

    Im all in favor of people making racial jokes. What comedian doesnt have racial jokes? But I think by now it is just common sense not to mention Hitler. The second someone says Hitler they lose all credibility.
    Wasn’t Will Smith under some fire for saying he thought Hitler had ambition? Or something like that?
    My point is you can say what you want but dont be a dumbass and bring up Hitler. You’re just begging for trouble.
    As for Mel Gibsona, yes he said some horrible things but he didn’t say he admired or sympathised with Hitler. If he had trust me, he wouldnt be at Cannes.

  • John

    Whether he meant it or not, his statements obviously crossed the line, especially at a Cannes press event. He’s a talented filmmaker, but I think that those types of comments are unacceptable in any context and he deserves to be banned.

  • Dave

    I guess we’ll never get over the whole nazi thing.

    • Dab

      And nor should we.

  • RickC

    My problem with all of this…is that they keep saying that it was just a bad joke. Even in a “bad” joke you can recognize where the humor was supposed to be. This is just some moron who can’t keep his fat jowels shut long enough to disengage his brain.

    Seriously, this droopy-dog looking bitch (and all the ‘pay attention to my work not my comments’ whiny-ass celebrifucks like him) need to be forgotten ASAP. They give jokes, and more importantly speech in general a bad name.

    Stop giving these people a free ride because they make movies. If the guy wanted to be shocking, he should have just said that he is talented, funny and original. The innaccuracy of that comment is truly shocking…

  • Tarek

    the Lobby Bobby…

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  • SPS

    You would bring up the Mel Gibson controversy again? As far as I know, The Beaver has seemed to do a good job so far. I’m still interested in Melancholia (it looks so twisted! lol) but having not seen any of Mr. Von Trier’s previous films, he definitely comes across as someone with kind of a big ego, I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s a little weird.

  • SPS

    And as far as I know, Gibson had no controversy in Cannes that I know of. Again, whe is he being brought up?

  • stylus59

    Matt Goldberg <3 Lars von Trier

  • JO

    I think it’s easy for people in America to say that they overreacted, but Europe still suffers from the scars that the Nazi party left behind. Hitler and Nazis are just a sore subject for Europe in general. In my opinion (which is just my own, and it alone will buy you nothing), I couldn’t find humor in this somehow “badly timed joke” and I definitely don’t feel that the Cannes Film Festival overreacted on this.

  • Alex–

    Mel Gibson was just talking crap to his divorcee and custody over their children wife over the telephone. The only reason we know about it was because she recorded it and released it to the public.

    Mel Gibson may be a racist, asshole that doesn’t like jews but at least he has the decency to keep that crap to himself. (drunk ravings excepted)

  • Alex–

    I think it would be more accurate to say european jews are alot more sensitive than other jews to the nazi’s and hitler. Europe left them to rot in WWII. While Russia, Britain and the U.S came to the rescue.

  • chris

    You are all stupid hypocrites. Go pad your self on the shoulder and say that you are making the world a better place. Because it is always the big group of idiots who makes the changes in the world. Fell the sarcasm morons!

  • GerryA

    These comments were made in Cannes which was Vichy France back during WW2. The puppet government which was set up to collude with the Nazi’s was more than helpful in assisting loading train loads of Jews to thier deaths. So you don’t mention the ‘N’ word at an international event there in such a manner as Von Trier has. It’s just common sense. Did they over-react? No.

  • Theorab

    Matt, your comments are spot-on!

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