Director Von Trier questioned over Hitler remarks

COPENHAGEN Wed Oct 5, 2011 6:23pm EDT

Director Lars Von Trier poses during an interview with Reuters in Mougins May 21, 2011. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Director Lars Von Trier poses during an interview with Reuters in Mougins May 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Yves Herman

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Director Lars Von Trier said he was questioned on Wednesday by Danish police for possibly breaking French law when he joked about Nazis and Hitler at the Cannes film festival in May.

In a statement, the controversial 55-year-old added that he would not make any more public statements or give interviews.

"Due to these serious accusations I have realized that I do not possess the skills to express myself unequivocally and I have therefore decided from this day forth to refrain from all public statements and interviews," he said.

The acclaimed film maker's remarks during a press conference in Cannes prompted the festival to expel him, an unprecedented move that could severely hamper his attempts to finance and make movies in the future.

Documents obtained by Reuters showed that a French court had asked Danish authorities to question Von Trier as part of a preliminary investigation into whether he had incited racial hatred.

It is not believed that he has been charged, although his own statement mentioned "charges made by the prosecution of Grasse in France from August 2011 regarding a possible violation of prohibition in French law against justification of war crimes."

The Danish police spokesman familiar with the issue was not immediately available for comment late on Wednesday.

FALL FROM GRACE

The award-winning director of films like "Breaking the Waves," "Dancer in the Dark" and "Antichrist" had been a favorite in Cannes before his remarks made during a press conference to promote his latest picture "Melancholia."

The apocalyptic vision of the end of the world was warmly received by critics, as was the performance of lead actress Kirsten Dunst. She went on to pick up the best actress prize at the festival's closing ceremony.

Organizers at Cannes, where Von Trier had previously won the top Palme d'Or award, decided to ban him after he jokingly called himself a Nazi and Hitler sympathizer.

His remarks angered Jewish groups, but many festival goers said the punishment was unduly harsh on a director who was apparently speaking in jest and in English, not his first language.

Responding to news of the police questioning, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants said they believed that Von Trier's remarks were wrong but not criminal.

"Holocaust survivors were offended by Von Trier's vile and insensitive remarks but do not believe he harbors pro-Nazi sympathies that merit criminal prosecution," said Elan Steinberg, vice president of the group.

"He is guilty of bad taste in the quest for cheap self-promotion and for this he should be condemned and exposed. His lack of concern for the traumatized victims of Nazi brutality is disgraceful.

"Nevertheless, his behavior is more childish than criminal. He should grow up."

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White in London, Nick Vinocur in Paris and Mette Fraende in Copenhagen; writing by Mike Collett-White)