Cannes bans von Trier after Nazi blunder

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The Cannes film festival on Thursday declared Lars von Trier "persona non grata" after the Danish director said he sympathised "a little bit" with Adolf Hitler, but kept his film in competition.

Von Trier, a frequent provocateur, already apologised on Wednesday after telling a press conference following a screening of his apocalyptic new picture "Melancholia" that he understood the Nazi leader.

The festival board of directors "firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars von Trier a persona non grata at the Cannes festival, with effect immediately," the festival said in a statement after an extraordinary meeting.

There was no immediate reaction from the director, who publicist Donna Mills told AFP was keeping to his programme of interviews on Thursday to promote "Melancholia".

Festival officials told AFP that von Trier's exclusion means he could in theory still win the Palme d'Or for which his film is in competition but he would not be allowed to attend the ceremony to accept it.

A source who attended the meeting said the decree meant that von Trier "remains in competition but is asked to be discreet. So, if he wins a prize on Sunday, he's asked not to come and receive it."

Festival president Gilles Jacob told AFP that it was the first time since at least the 1960s that Cannes -- the world's biggest film showcase -- has effectively banned a director.

Distribution Company SA, an Argentinian company with rights to distribute "Melancholia" in parts of Latin America, distanced itself from von Trier's remarks, saying in a Twitter feed that it would not release the picture.

The furore erupted after von Trier was on Wednesday asked by a reporter about his German heritage.

"I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi. You know because my family was German, Hartmann, which also gave me some pleasure," he said with a cheerful smile.

"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, von Trier issued a statement of apology through one of the producers of "Melancholia", adding: "I am not anti-Semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi."

Several cinema professionals, in particular from France, on Wednesday had called for the iconoclastic director to be excluded or at least sanctioned for his statements.

"The Cannes festival provides artists from around the world with an exceptional forum to present their works and defend freedom of expression and creation," the board's statement said.

The board "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."

© 2011 AFP

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