Danish director Lars Von Trier who won the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or in 2000 for Dancer in the Dark, caused as much befuddlement at a Cannes news conference today (Wednesday) as his latest movie, Melancholia , did when it was screened for the press a few hours earlier. The movie, in which Kirsten Dunst plays an overwrought and rueful newlywed and Charlotte Gainsbourg plays her no-nonsense sister, is set in the near future, when a giant planet, previously hidden by the sun, appears to be on a possible Collision course with Earth (although most scientists have predicted it will be a close fly-by). Left unexplained why does Dunst's character speak with an American accent and Gainsbourg's with a British one? Why, as the planet bears down on earth does no one in the movie turn on CNN? Why does Dunst's character appear so unhinged in the first half of the movie while Gainsbourg's remains rational, then reversing behavior in the second half? But if the movie seemed bizarre, Von Trier's remarks at the news conference seemed positively looney. Intentionally so, presumably. At one point, he sidestepped a question from a reporter by saying that he planned to feature Dunst and Gainsbourg next in a porno movie -- "three hours long" that would show "a lot of very, very unpleasant sex." All of which brought hoots of laughter from the members of the press. But when a reporter brought up the subject of his German Roots, he began by remarking, "I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew." He then referred to a previous disclosure that he learned from his mother that his father, whom he thought was Jewish, was in fact a Nazi. He suggested that as a result he now has a better "understanding" of Hitler -- although he acknowledged whimsically, "He's not a good guy." As Dunst, who was sitting next to him, appeared to be trying to restrain this riff, he plunged on "I am of course very much for Jews. No, not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. But still ... " The laughs were now fading and so was Von Trier. Turning to Dunst, he asked, "How can I get out of this?" The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants wasted no time issuing a statement, saying that Von Trier's remarks "may have been made in jest and for shock, but those subjected to the brutalities of the Nazi regime cannot find amusement in recalling the torture and deaths of those terrible times. We cannot give a review of his film, but as a person Von Trier is a moral failure." The festival later said that it had asked Von Trier for an explanation of his remarks. "The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology," a spokesperson for the festival said, adding, "The Festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects."