Witch hunt or wise move? Cannes ponders expulsion over Nazi “joke”

May 20, 2011

(Director Lars Von Trier arrives on the red carpet for the screening of the film "Melancholia" in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, May 18, 2011/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

Witch hunt or wise decision? That was the question on the lips of movie-goers, critics and executives at the Cannes film festival after the sudden expulsion of Danish director Lars Von Trier. The annual cinema showcase is the world’s biggest and well-known as a haven for provocative voices like Von Trier’s. But organizers clearly decided the 55-year-old director had overstepped the mark when he jokingly told the world press on Wednesday that he was a Nazi who sympathized with Hitler.

And while the festival cracked down on Von Trier within 24 hours, revoking his accreditation, reaction was more divided from the crowd on the famous palm-lined Riviera waterfront. “I’m against the decision. Everyone here is on two hours’ sleep and anyone can say something stupid at a press conference. He apologized and that was enough,” said 20-something filmmaker Christophe Monsourian.

At Wednesday’s bizarre press conference, Von Trier, in Cannes to talk about his movie “Melancholia,” launched into a rambling monologue about his Jewish/German heritage before making the remarks that forced his exit. He jokingly said he was a Nazi, sympathized with Hitler “a little bit,” deemed Israel a “pain in the ass” and muttered the phrase “the final solution for journalists.”

Cannes normally thrives on controversy and scandal, as when Von Trier brought his ultra-violent, sexually explicit “Antichrist” to the festival two years ago that prompted jeers at the press screening.

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