- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2011

CANNES, FRANCE (AP) - Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier was booted out of the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday for a bizarre, rambling news conference in which he said he sympathizes with Adolf Hitler.

The comments had ignited shock from the moment they spilled out of the director’s mouth, causing Kirsten Dunst, an actress in his film “Melancholia,” to lean over and whisper to von Trier, “Oh my God, this is terrible.”

Festival President Gilles Jacob said von Trier had been banned from the rest of this year’s festival, although he would not elaborate if the filmmaker might be allowed back in the future. It was an unprecedented move by the festival, which in 2000 had bestowed its highest honor on von Trier’s earlier film, “Dancer in the Dark.”

The filmmaker’s comments had “stained the reputation for the festival” and its 28-member board of directors felt it had to respond, Jacob said.

Von Trier’s current film “Melancholia” remains in competition for all Cannes prizes _ including the top Palme d’Or award _ but if it wins any he will not be allowed to attend Sunday’s closing ceremony.

At a news conference for the film Wednesday, von Trier spoke about his German heritage, and in a rambling speech said he understood and sympathized with Hitler. The director said afterward he had been joking and later issued an apology.

Thierry Fremaux, the general director at Cannes, said von Trier told festival officials that he “accepts the punishment.”

“He’s upset by this matter,” Fremaux said. “He recognized that the festival had to take a firm position in regards to his comments.”

Jacob said the board considered throwing “Melancholia” out of the festival but it decided to “distinguish between the work and the person.”

The decision should not affect the nine-member jury’s deliberations, Fremaux said, adding, they “must judge the films in all sovereignty according to whatever criteria they like.” He added that the festival’s organizers “don’t have direct contact” with the jury, which is headed by Robert De Niro and includes Uma Thurman and Jude Law.

A festival statement said the Cannes board “firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars von Trier a persona non grata at the festival.”

The festival “provides artists from around the world with an exceptional forum to present their works and defend freedom of expression and creation,” the 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.”

Von Trier told reporters at the “Melancholia” news conference that he had some compassion for Hitler.

“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 in the ass.”

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