The Cannes Film Festival, long-heralded for its libertarian attitude to the work and lives of its many auteurs, has finally drawn a line in the sun-scorched sand. Its organisers have banned Danish director Lars von Trier from the festival for telling the world's media he was "a Nazi" and could "understand Hitler".
In a statement released yesterday, the festival organisers described von Trier, whose film Melancholia will remain in competition for the coveted Palme d'Or, as "persona non grata", banning him from the festival for the foreseeable future. The organisers have refused to confirm whether it is a ban for life.
"The festival's board of directors 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," the statement read.
On Wednesday, Von Trier said: "I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things, but I can see him sitting in his bunker. I understand much about him and sympathise with him." The director also discussed how he would like to make hardcore pornography with Melancholia's stars, Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The director said yesterday: "I am sure that the Cannes Film Festival has made a decision that is very wise and I accept it completely." He said that his comments were an attempt to "entertain" assembled journalists.
"When I have a full audience I want to entertain them a little bit," he said. "Everyone is waiting for it: when is Lars going to say something provocative? I couldn't find something important to say so I just talked my way into a sentence."
Dunst and Gainsbourg will be allowed to attend Sunday night's lavish presentation ceremony for the Palme d'Or, but Von Trier will not. Another of the film's stars, Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård, criticised the festival's decision, calling it "a disgrace". He said: "Everybody knows he is not a Nazi so they are punishing him for a bad joke. Is there a list of topics you are not allowed to joke about in city limits of Cannes?"
The move, which is unprecedented in the festival's 65-year history, is at odds with its normally relaxed attitude. Last year, a petition circulated among directors at the festival which pledged support for Roman Polanski, who at that time was awaiting extradition to the US for an alleged sex crime three decades earlier. Polanski, a frequent visitor to the festival while he was wanted in the US, was recognised with the Palme d'Or in 2002.