Cannes Film Festival, Lars Von Trier, Kirsten Dunst - Reuters - 18.5.11
Director Lars Von Trier, left, and cast member Kirsten Dunst at a news conference on May 18, 2011 for the film 'Melancholia,' at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. Photo by Reuters
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CANNES, France - Danish director Lars von Trier jokingly declared himself a Nazi at a press conference at the Cannes film festival yesterday, causing consternation among the assembled reporters and garnering an outcry from Jewish groups.

The maverick filmmaker is at the cinema showcase with competition entry "Melancholia," a grand cinematic statement on life, death and the universe which wowed a packed audience at a press screening in the giant Grand Theatre Lumiere.

Von Trier, who according to biographies was brought up thinking he was Jewish until his mother revealed his German heritage on her death bed, told assembled reporters he "understood" Hitler.

"But anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out I was really a Nazi, you know, because my family was German ... which also gave me some pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things, yes absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end. I think I understand the man. 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 went on to call Israel a "pain in the ass."

Von Trier was flanked at the news conference by his two leading stars Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst, who was visibly uncomfortable as he made his remarks. The director also said he wanted to make a pornographic film starring the two.

"Oh Lars, that was intense," Dunst was heard saying at the end of the conference.

Von Trier went on to express admiration for Nazi architect Albert Speer before ending another rambling sentence with: "OK, I'm a Nazi."

One reporter asked whether he could imagine making a movie that was even bigger in scale than "Melancholia".

"Yeah, that's what we Nazis ... we have a tendency to try to do things on a greater scale. Yeah, maybe you could persuade me." He also muttered "the final solution with journalists."

The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants said in a statement: "Holocaust survivors condemn Von Trier's repulsive comments as an insensitive exploitation of victims' suffering for self-serving promotion and publicity. ... We cannot give a review of his film, but as a person Von Trier is a moral failure."

Von Trier's provocative comments, which appeared to have been made in jest, may harm his chances of winning the Palme d'Or in Cannes for best picture.

"You can't award him a Palme d'Or, politically," said Jason Solomons, chairman of the Film Critics' Circle in London.

The Hollywood Reporter remarked that the 55-year-old had "pulled a Mel Gibson," in reference to the latter's anti-Semitic outburst in 2006 that badly harmed his reputation.