Lars Von Trier's "I am a Nazi" joke didn't go over so well at Cannes

Lars Von Trier's "I am a Nazi" joke didn't go over so well at Cannes

If it weren’t already obvious, director Lars Von Trier is a reliable source of juicy sound bites, often using interviews and press conferences to ramble bluntly, cheerfully, and usually quite wittily about his films and their stars without coming anywhere close to a filtered thought. It’s all in good fun—until, of course, someone brings up Hitler, which is what Von Trier did at today’s Cannes reception for Melancholia.

Things were going relatively fine until then: Flanked by his actors Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Von Trier kidded about his next project being “a porn film” starring his two leading ladies in a story that would feature “a lot of very, very unpleasant sex” for about three or four hours, a scenario that would also somehow explore the conflict between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. He then ribbed frequent Von Trier player Udo Kier by saying that next time he would be “typecast not only as homosexual, but also extremely drunk. We won’t have to change anything. You can just go on with your life.” And of course, he took a typical, dryly stated shot at his own film, saying, “Maybe it’s crap. I hope not. But there is quite a big possibility that it might be really not worth seeing.”

And so for a while, Von Trier had the chuckling press corps in the palm of his hand. Then British film critic Kate Muir asked Von Trier about his German heritage, and suddenly everything went off the rails:

The only thing I can tell you is that I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew, then later on came [Danish and Jewish director] Susanne Bier, and suddenly I wasn't so happy about being a Jew. That was a joke. Sorry. But it turned out that I was not a Jew. If I'd been a Jew, then I would be a second-wave Jew, a kind of a new-wave Jew, but anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi, because my family is German. And that also gave me some pleasure. So, I, what can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things but I can see him sitting in his bunker.

Not surprisingly, Von Trier’s whole “I understand Hitler” tangent didn’t go over so well. The mood got palpably uncomfortable, as Dunst exclaimed, “Oh God!” while hiding her face, then sat next to him turning visibly red. Sensing he may have lost them completely, Von Trier began trying to talk his way out of it:

I'm saying that I think I understand the man. He is not what we could call a good guy, but yeah, I understand much about him and I sympathize with him ... But come on! I'm not for the Second World War. And I'm not against Jews. No, not even Susanne Bier. I am very much for them. As much as Israelis are a pain in the ass. How do I get out of this sentence? Okay, I am a Nazi.

…which got some laughs but didn’t help, exactly. Things got even worse as Von Trier kept up the gag: After a follow-up question from a journalist who attempted to “save” him and switch gears by asking if he’d ever like to do a blockbuster, Von Trier replied, “Yes. We Nazis have a tendency to try to do things on a greater scale. Maybe I could do the Final Solution.” Mournful rimshot. You can watch the whole thing play out here. (The Nazi stuff starts around the 35:00 mark.)

Again, there were scattered laughs, as it was clear to most that Von Trier was just joking. But after festival organizers got wind of it, they naturally thought it best to distance themselves from the whole Hitler ha-ha thing, issuing a statement saying they were “disturbed” by his statements and avowing it was “adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects.” They also forced the director to apologize, which he’s now done, 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.”

Inevitably, the Anti-Defamation League has already weighed in, saying Von Trier “seems to be struggling with some personal ghosts” that he obviously decided to resolve in “a very, very bizarre way”—suggesting the ADL has maybe yet to see a Lars Von Trier movie. [via Movieline and Vulture]