At the 64th Cannes Film Festival, the controversial nazi comments Lars Von Trier had said during a press conference for his competition-entry - Melancholia - was the height of that conference session; but it may also be the height of the festival itself, in terms of the attention it received this year. Von Trier's comments were made just a few days away from the festival's closing ceremonies. Thierry Fremaux, the festival's General Delegate, gave a brief press announcement to distance the festival from Von Trier's comments, even though the director meant to be funny. Thus,on 19 May 2011, festival officials declared Von Trier persona non grata.
Now before Von Trier made those comments, the conference was sailing somewhat smoothly. In some ways, the exchange of questions and answers was lively, peppered with jokes by Von Trier himself. However, there were moments his jokes verged on crossing certain lines, especially those directed to his female cast-members: Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Around the middle of the conference, his jokes about doing a porn-film with these cast-members in his next film-project received shaky laughter. Funny, somewhat funny, mocking, sarcastic, insulting, and, in some ways, sincere. Perhaps this is Danish humor?
Towards the end of the conference, the marriage of those descriptors above gained a less appealing momentum, when Kate Muir from The Times of London asked:
"Can you talk a bit about your German roots, and the gothic aspect of this film? And also, you mentioned in a Danish film magazine also about your interest in the nazi aesthetic, and you talked about that German roots at the same time. Can you tell us a bit/more about that?"A great question, I think. Muir's question was more provocative than the question hurled at this year's competition-jury president, Robert De Niro: "Did you f— my wife?" Had that question been directed to Von Trier, his press conference, no doubt, would've ended with a less depressing note. And so, to answer Muir's question, Von Trier gave a long answer:
But while Von Trier was banned in the festival, his film was not taken out of competition. In fact, it won in the Best Actress category: Kirsten Dunst. In her acceptance speech, after receiving her Prize from Edgar Ramirez, Dunst said:"The only thing I can tell is that I thought I was a Jew for a long time, and was very happy being a Jew. Then later on came Susanne Bier and suddenly I wasn't very happy about being a Jew. No, that was a joke. Sorry. It turned out that I was not a Jew, and even if I'd been a Jew, I would be a kind of a second rate Jew because there are, kind of, a hierarchy in the Jewish population. But anyway, no, I really wanted to be a Jew. And then I found out that I was really a Nazi. Because my family was German, Hartman, which also gave me some pleasure. So I'm kind of a, what can I say? I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely! I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end. But there will come a point at the end of this. No, I'm just saying that I think I understand the man. He's not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him and I sympathise with him a little bit. No, but come on! I am not for the Second World War! And I'm not against Jews - Susanne Bier? No, not even Susanne Bier, that was also a joke! I'm of course, very much for Jews, no, not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. But, still, how can I get out of this sentence? No, I just want to say about the art of the, I'm very much for Speer, Speer I liked, Albert Speer I liked. He was also maybe one of God's best children, but he had some talent that was kind of possible for him to use during - OK, I'm a Nazi!"Press Conference for Melancholia, Cannes, 2011;from Wikipedia,
"What a week! My thanks to the Jury, this is a real honour. I'm grateful to the Festival for keeping the film in Competition. And I'm grateful to Lars Von Trier for letting me play the role with such freedom."