Film-maker Lars von Trier 'accepts' Cannes ban

19th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Cannes barred provocative Danish director Lars von Trier Thursday amid a growing backlash over his remarks about Adolf Hitler, but his film remains in the race for the festival's top prize.

Blackballing one of Europe's most prominent film-makers, festival organisers declared the 55-year-old auteur "persona non grata" -- telling him in effect to stay away from the world's biggest cinema jamboree.

In a statement, the festival said it "profoundly regrets" that von Trier had made comments "unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity" which it said underpinned the event.

"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," it said.

It was the first time since at least the 1960s that a director has been kicked out of Cannes, festival president Gilles Jacob told AFP.

But significantly, von Trier's apocalyptic drama "Melancholia" was kept in competition for the Palme d'Or, one of the most coveted honours in cinema, to be awarded at the end of the festival on Sunday.

Twenty films from around the world are in the running for the prize.

For his part, the film-maker said he was "proud to have been declared a persona non grata," suggesting it was "perhaps" the first time it had happened, according to the website of the Danish daily Ekstra Bladet.

Talking about the festival's reaction, he told the website he thought "one of the reasons (for his exclusion) is that the French treated Jews badly themselves during World War II."

"It's a sensitive subject for them," he said, adding that he had a "lot of respect" for Cannes Festival officials and understood why they were angry with him.

In an interview with the Danish channel TV2 News, von Trier nevertheless apologised once again for the remarks, while adding: "But I am who I am, I cannot change the way I am."

The furore blew up on Wednesday at a press conference after the first screening of "Melancholia" when a reporter asked von Trier about his German heritage.

Von Trier -- notorious for his black humour and political incorrectness -- replied with a cheerful smile that he sympathised "a little bit" with Hitler.

"I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi," he said, referring to his mother's deathbed revelation that his biological father was actually a German.

"I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things, yes absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end."

Later in the day, as his words raced around the world, von Trier issued a statement of apology, adding: "I am not anti-Semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi."

"I don't think anyone left the room thinking that what he had said would lead to Lars being declared persona non grata," Foldager told AFP. "He was trying to be funny and it didn't work."

Von Trier -- who won the Palme d'Or in 2000 for "Dancer in the Dark" starring Icelandic pop singer Bjork -- accepted the decision, his producer Meta Foldager told AFP Thursday.

"Lars accepts whatever the festival directors want to do to punish him," Foldager said. "He fully accepts that... It's up to the festival to decide what is good for the festival."

Von Trier, she added, was "fine and doing his work" promoting the film, which stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as sisters confronting the end of the world as a rogue planet is about to slam into Earth.

Distribution Company SA, an Argentinian company that holds the rights to "Melancholia" in parts of Latin America, swiftly distanced itself from the film director's comments, declaring in a Twitter feed that it would not release the picture.

Foldager said she was unaware of any other country where distributors had gotten cold feet. Israel is one of the markets where "Melancholia" has been sold, she added.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand -- whose department covers a good chunk of the festival's 20 million euro ($28.5 million) budget -- called von Trier's remarks "disgraceful".

"His remarks and the way he said them, this type of provocation, does not have a place in the festival or anywhere else for that matter," he said.

"The only award that Lars von Trier should receive is the Cannes Film Festival 'Bigot of the Year'," echoed the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish rights group based in Los Angeles.

© 2011 AFP

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