Danish filmaker Lars von Trier has explained he "allowed himself to be egged on by a provocation" in a press conference where he made comments about Adolf Hitler.
Festival organizers issued a statement saying that they were "disturbed" by the comments, in which von Trier said that he understands Hitler, and had called the Danish director in to explain himself.
Von Trier's publicists later released a separate statement saying the director sincerely apologized for the comments.
"I am not anti-Semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi," he is quoted as saying.
The director shocked a Cannes press conference following the first screening of his movie "Melancholia" on Wednesday when he launched into a rambling monologue about his German heritage, at one point saying "I understand Hitler."
Asked about his German heritage, von Trier launched into a rambling train of thoughts, starting with how he used to think he was a Jew and his disappointment when he learned he was not.
"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," von Trier said. "Which also gave me some pleasure."
"What can I 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," von Trier said. "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."
"I am very much for Jews. No, not too much, because Israel is a pain."
Von Trier then asked, "How can I get out of this sentence?"
Going on to say he liked Hitler aide Albert Speer, von Trier finally wrapped up with the wisecrack, "OK, I'm a Nazi."
Afterward, von Trier told The Associated Press the remarks just spilled out without any forethought.
"I don't have so much to say, so I kind of have to improvise a little and just to let the feelings I have kind of come out into words," von Trier said. "This whole Nazi thing, I don't know where it came from, but you spend a lot of time in Germany, you sometimes want to feel a little free and just talk about this (expletive), you know?"
Dunst, Gainsbourg and other Melancholia co-stars, including John Hurt and Stellan Skarsgard, sat stiff and stony-faced through most of von Trier's comments. At one point, though, Dunst leaned over and whispered to von Trier, "Oh my God, this is terrible."
In an interview later, Dunst said von Trier felt embarrassed about the remarks.
"He likes to run his mouth," Dunst said. "I think he dug himself in a deep hole today."
The festival says it "acknowledges" von Trier's apology.
Von Trier is not the first director to make waves with controversial comments of this nature. Last year, Oliver Stone, the famed Hollywood director of films such as Platoon and JFK, shocked readers of the Sunday Times when he said that Jewish control of the media was preventing an open discussion of the Holocaust.
Stone reportedly said U.S. public opinion was focused on the Holocaust as a result of the "Jewish domination of the media," adding that an upcoming film of his aimed to put Adolf Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin "in context."
Von Trier has a long history of agitating Cannes crowds. His 2000 drama Dancer in the Dark won the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, but the film sharply divided audiences, some loving it, some hating it.
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