Lars Von Trier: “When I make comedies they become very melancholy”

It's hard to recall a more chipper Lars von Trier than the one on display this morning in Cannes after the first screening of his latest film, Melancholia. Laughing, poking fun at his colleagues on stage, teasing them about pornography, joking about Hitler. Oh wait, he may have just gone too far.

UPDATE: Lars von Trier, as well as organizers of the Cannes Film Festival issued statements on Wednesday evening, von Trier apologizing and the Festival saying they were disturbed by von Trier's remarks today. The complete statements are available at the end of this article.

Von Trier never disappoints in Cannes. For example, take a closer look at his right hand. Letters are written on the tops of his fingers: F U C K.

The world comes to a violent end in von Trier's latest, but that's just the first few minutes of the film, so its no spoiler. Melancholia begins with a stunning prologue set to the overture from Richard Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. "Let's get it over with right away," explains the film's press notes. "The end of Lars von Trier's film Melancholia. Everybody dies."

"To me it's not so much a film about the end of the world, it's a film a about a state of mind," Lars von Trier said after the screening today in Cannes. Melancholia is about longing, he added later. Kirsten Dunst stars as a depressed newlywed in the film, her character hoping that marriage will stabilize her.

The actress understands depression, von Trier revealed during today's conversation. Then he quickly stopped himself. "Can I say that?" he asked, looking at her. She smiled a bit. Maybe not? "Otherwise forget it," he inserted.

"In Antichrist I was playing him and in this film Kirsten is playing him," explained Charlotte Gainsbourg, seated on the other side of von Trier. She was, of course, referring to her role in the Danish director's film that earned her a best actress prize at this festival two years ago.

Von Trier was publicly miserable at that time, verbally attacked by a Cannes journalist who took offense to a film that was summarily booed by some at its first showing here. At the time, he spoke openly in interviews about his own depression. He's quit drinking, glad to be back in Cannes and said he was happy with film. Until he saw the marketing materials. The he started to think differently.

"Maybe its crap," von Trier added this morning, "Of course I hope not, but there's quite a big possibility that this might not be worth seeing."

"You are very funny," a journalist told von Trier near the end of today's press conference. "Why don't you make comedies!" 

"Because when I make comedies they become very melancholy," von Trier responded. Not missing a beat, he added, "This was a comedy. You don't want to see tragedy."

Von Trier seemed to have the press in the palm of his hand for once. But, as today's press conference came to a close, things took a turn when a journalist asked him about his German ancestry.

"For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew," von Trier began, labeling himself a second rate Jew. Then, he said he found out that he was actually of German heritage. "I found out that I was actually a Nazi," he exclaimed, "Which also gave me some pleasure." 

Stirring laughter, he kept going. Rambling. 

"What can I say, I understand Hitler," Lars von Trier quipped. "I think he did some wrong things. I think I understand the man...I sympathize with him a little bit." 

"I don't mean I'm in favor of World War II and I'm not against Jews," von Trier clarified as Dunst, Gainsbourg and the actors seated with him on stage started to look just a bit uncomfortable.

"In fact I'm very much in favor of them," von Trier concluded, "All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain in the ass."

As a few members of the press gasped and many others laughed, Von Trier wondered aloud, "How do I get out of this sentence?"

STATEMENT FROM LARS VON TRIER:

"If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize. I am not antisemitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a nazi." - Lars von Trier

STATEMENT FROM THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL:

"The Festival de Cannes was disturbed about the statements made by Lars von Trier in his press conference this morning in Cannes. Therefore the Festival asked him to provide an explanation for his comments.The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology. The direction of the Festival acknowledges this and is passing on Lars von Trier’s apology. The Festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects."

Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and a founder of indieWIRE. Follow him on Twitter from Cannes (@eug) and follow the rest of FIlmLinc.com's Cannes coverage in our special section.

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