Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier was banned from the Cannes festival on Thursday following his earlier comments that he was a Nazi and that he sympathized with Adolf Hitler.
The festival board of directors said in a statement that it “firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars von Trier a persona non grata at the Cannes festival, with effect immediately.”
The board added that the Cannes festival “provides artists from around the world with an exceptional forum to present their works and defend freedom of expression and creation,” and that it “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.”
Festival President Gilles Jacob told The Associated Press that von Trier’s comments “stained the reputation for the festival,” and explained that the decision means von Trier has been banned from the rest of this year’s festival. Jacob would not elaborate if the filmmaker might be allowed back in the future.
A spokesperson for the festival told AFP that von Trier’s exclusion from the festival means he could in theory still win the Palme d’Or, for which his film “Melancholia” is in competition, but that he would not be allowed to attend the ceremony to accept the award.
On Wednesday, when asked during a news conference about his German heritage, von Trier replied: “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, which also gave me some pleasure.”
He then continued to say, “I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely. 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.”
He ended by saying: “OK, I’m a Nazi.”
Von Trier later issued an apology in which he said: “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.”
Thierry Fremaux, the general director at Cannes, told AP on Thursday that von Trier had told festival officials that he “accepts the punishment.”
“He's upset by this matter,” Fremaux said. “He recognized that the festival had to take a firm position in regards to his comments.”
“Melancholia” co-star Stellan Skarsgard defended von Trier on Thursday, telling AP that “it's embarrassing for the Cannes Film Festival that they behave like this.”
Skasgard added, “Everybody knows he’s not a Nazi. So what are they punishing him for? Lying? Saying he was a Nazi? Joking? It’s a storm in a teacup, and it’s absolutely silly. And that the festival doesn’t have more spine than stand against all those upset feelings that have no ground, that is ridiculous, and it’s unworthy of the festival to do something like that.”
Meanwhile, Jewish groups applauded the festival’s decision.
“This is a welcome action, which declares to the world that the suffering of victims is not a fit subject for mockery or casual self-promotion,” Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement quoted by AP. “The organizers of the Cannes film festival have eloquently taken a determined moral stand against cavalier expressions of hate and insensitivity to those brutalized by the Nazis — Jew and non-Jew.”