Lars von Trier: 'I'm a Little Proud' of Cannes Ban (Cannes 2011)

10:15 AM PST 05/19/2011 by Scott Roxborough
Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

After being ousted by the festival for remarks about Hitler and Nazis, the "Melancholia" director tells THR he's "no Mel Gibson."

CANNES – Lars von Trier has accepted his ban by the Cannes Film Festival but said he’s no Mel Gibson.

The Danish director was named persona non grata by the Cannes Festival after provocative remarks in a press conference for his Competition title Melancholia in which he called himself a Nazi and said he “sympathized a bit” with Hitler. PHOTOS: Cannes' hottest parties

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Von Trier said he was sorry for any damage his comments, which he says were meant as a joke and misunderstood, have done to the Cannes Festival’s reputation.

“It’s a pity because (Jewish festival head) Gilles Jacob is a close personal friend of mine,” Von Trier said. “What I said was completely stupid but I am absolutely no Mel Gibson … What I meant was I could imagine what it was like for Hitler in the bunker, making plans. Not that I would do what Hitler did. But it’s a pity if it means I will lose contact with Cannes.”

Von Trier pointed to his own background - his stepfather is Jewish and he grew up thinking he had Jewish roots – to indicate how ridiculous it would be to call him an anti-Semite.

But Lars Von Trier wouldn’t be the enfant terrible of the European cinema scene if he didn’t spice his mea culpa with another zinger.

“I have to say I’m a little proud of being named a persona non grata. I think my family would be proud,” he quipped. “I have a French order. Now they will likely tear it off my chest.”

It is still unclear what Cannes ban, the first applied to a director in living memory, will mean for Von Trier. The director said he would not be allowed “within 100 meters” of the Festival Palais and red carpet, meaning he will not attend the Cannes awards ceremony on Sunday, but was not certain if his films would also be banned.

“I hope not,” Von Trier commented. “Because even if I was Hitler – and I must now state for the record I am not Hitler – but even if I was Hitler and I made a great film, Cannes should select it.”

It seems unlikely that Cannes will ban Von Trier’s films. The Festival has kept Melancholia in Competition even as it has banned the controversial Danish director.

But his comments, and the reaction to them, are certain to have long-lasting effects, both on the reception of Melancholia and Von Trier’s career. Already the Argentine distributor of the film, citing Von Trier’s comments, said it would not release Melancholia. The director himself admitted he may now have trouble “raising money or getting certain actors to work with me” because of the incident.

Von Trier however played down the reaction of Melancholia stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who were sitting to either side of him at the press conference and seemed shocked by what he was saying.

“I think Kirsten sees me as very European and crazy,” he said. “But I don’t think Charlotte was shocked. Her father (singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg) was known for being provocative. She said to me ‘My father would have been proud of you.’”

Von Trier said he has not yet talked to Martin Scorsese, with whom he is planning a collaborative documentary: The Five Obstructions: Scorsese vs Trier. Von Trier said he is confident the project, which Magnolia pre-bought for North America just hours before the controversial Melancholia press conference, will go ahead.

“I haven’t spoken to him yet but Martin is very open minded,” Von Trier said.

Trying to explain his press conference comments, Von Trier admitted that, in part, he was playing his old role as Cannes’ agent provocateur.

“It sounds strange but I don’t like conflict. When I went into the press conference I felt like I should entertain people there,” he said. “Everyone comes to see what crazy thing Lars is going to say. And then I started a sentence which I couldn’t get out of. At the time I didn’t think much about it. Everyone seemed to understand and they was laughter. It’s only afterwards, when you read it: ‘I sympathize with Hitler’ that I thought ‘oh boy.’”

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