Interview with Lars von Trier: 'If Anyone Would Like To Hit Me, They Are Welcome'

Danish director Lars von Trier was kicked out of the Cannes Film Festival this week for his controversial statements about Adolf Hitler and his comment "okay, I am a Nazi." He spoke with SPIEGEL ONLINE about the scandal -- and did his best to clear everything up.

Danish director Lars von Trier at the Cannes Film Festival this week. Zoom
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Danish director Lars von Trier at the Cannes Film Festival this week.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have been declared persona non grata at the Cannes Film Festival after you made controversial comments about Adolf Hitler and joked that you were a Nazi. What is your reaction?

Von Trier: I am very proud of being persona non grata. I have never been one before in my life. And it suits me extremely well.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How so?

Von Trier: I feel so claustrophobic in the festival palais that I will be very happy not to go there. I now have an excuse for not going to Cannes... That's maybe the good part. I would love to go home, but I think I should promote my film "Melancholia" as much as I can. My thing was -- if it will help you, throw the film out. Please throw the film out. It's fine with me.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It sounds like the festival at which you have celebrated your greatest successes doesn't matter to you at all.

Von Trier: It's kind of shocking to me, these things. I respect the Cannes film festival very much. They have helped me a lot. I am a very good friend of Gilles Jacob, and he was very angry at me.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can you explain from your point of view how your confusing statements at the press conference came about?

Von Trier: I made a connection from German romanticism to the values that were taken over by the Third Reich. People wanted me to say that Albert Speer was not a great artist. And that I cannot say, because I feel he was a great artist. He was an asshole and killed people. But for the truth we have to draw a line, as between sports and politics. He has been a fantastic influence on the afterworld.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The critique this week has primarily been focused on your comments such as "okay, I am a Nazi."

Von Trier: First of all, I have a very famous Danish Jewish name. All my children have Jewish names. I have spent half of my life investigating my Jewish past, which turned out not to be my past because my father was not my father. I found out that I was not Jewish but a German. In the slang we use in Denmark -- which is not funny, but stupid -- a German is called a Nazi. So I was not a Jew but a Nazi, not meaning I was a Nazi, but meaning I was a German.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So the accusations that you are anti-Semitic are inaccurate?

Von Trier: I don't like Israel's Palestinian policies. But I am not Mel Gibson. I am definitely not Mel Gibson. I am the opposite. I have been to all these concentration camps and I think that the Holocaust is the worst crime in humanity. And I was naïve. Coming from Denmark, I thought this was some time ago and we should open up a little. This was wrong. It was stupid of me and I apologize for the pain I have inflicted on some people. If anyone would like to hit me, they are perfectly welcome. I must warn you, though, that I might enjoy it. So maybe it's not the right kind of punishment.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The leadership of the Cannes festival would seem to agree. How can you explain the intensity of the reaction?

Von Trier: I believe it's an especially delicate subject down here because the French have a history of being especially cruel to the Jews.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Sorry, but such statements don't exactly seem calibrated to help you return to the festival's good graces.

Von Trier: I am just so tired. Maybe I am too stupid and I should be carried around in a little cage with something in front of my mouth. But on the other hand, I do have some political issues I would like to raise. I think it's completely stupid to bomb Tripoli. That is beyond what the United Nations should ever do. And that's not because I think Moammar Gadhafi is a good guy. The UN was established to have different countries get together so they didn't get involved a war. And now they are trying to spread American liberalism all over the world, which is not good. But nobody has talked about the film.

Interview conducted by Rüdiger Sturm

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