UPDATE: 9:30 AM: Now director Lars von Trier has issued an apology: “If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize. I am not anti-semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi.”

PREVIOUS, 9:05 AM: The Cannes Film Festival has just issued a press release saying it was disturbed by von Trier’s comments and asked for an explanation from the Danish director, who it said has apologized.

The Festival de Cannes was disturbed about the statements made by Lars von Trier in his press conference this morning in Cannes. Therefore the Festival asked him to provide an explanation for his comments.

The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology.

The direction of the Festival acknowledges this and is passing on Lars von Trier’s apology. The Festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects.

PREVIOUS, 6:31 AM: As usual, you can leave it to Danish director Lars von Trier to make waves. But now enough may be enough. Participating in the Cannes Film Festival for the 11th time,

the controversial helmer set more than a few mouths agape at a press conference following the 8:30 AM press screening of his latest opus, Melancholia. Because, asked at one point about his German roots — though he was actually born in Copenhagen in 1956 — he jumped right in with the kind of “Is he putting us on or what?” abandon he is known for:

“For a long time I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew, then I met Susanne Bier [fellow Danish director and this year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film] and I wasn’t so happy. But then I found out I was actually a Nazi. My family was German. That also gave me pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler. I sympathize with him a bit.”

Then, in the spirit of Mel Gibson, who wisely skipped The Beaver press conference yesterday, thereby dodging bullets of this type that come up from a room full of international press, von Trier kept on going:

“I don’t mean I’m in favor of World War II and I’m not against Jews, not even Susanne Bier. In fact I’m very much in favor of them. All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain in the ass [pause] … How can I get out of this sentence? OK, I’m a Nazi.”

At this point, his film’s stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg and the rest of the cast looked like they wanted to be anywhere but sitting next to von Trier.

Should we take him seriously? He has a well-knwon reputation at these things for being something of a put-on artist, a guy who avoids serious answers by being flip and outrageous. He clearly revels in the press he gets out of it, the kind he’s getting right now of course. But what can you say about a guy who also suggested his next picture might be XXX-rated? “My next film, and Kirsten demanded it, will be porn. That’s how women are. Really hard core. That’s what I’m writing now,” he said.

Lars was in rare form today. Why does he spew this stuff in Cannes? Because he can.

As for the film itself, it received very mild applause but I heard no boos. Unlike last time he was here in 2009 with the dreadful, over-the-top Antichrist, which also starred Gainsbourg, who managed to win Best Actress probably just for having to put up with von Trier’s antics. Obviously she came back for more this time. Melancholia is an end-of-the-world rumination divided into two parts, centered on sisters played by Gainsbourg and Dunst, who does full frontal nudity for the first time in her career. It’s set at a remote villa surrounded by an 18-hole golf course. A wedding is taking place against the threat of world annihilation when the planet Melancholia is on a collision course with Earth. As per many von Trier films, it is an uneven blend of melodrama, tedious dialogue, scenes that run way too long, and occasional spurts of stunning filmmaking — in this case brilliant cinematography, wonderfully realized production design and very effective music (an adaptation of Tristan and Isolde). Dunst and particularly Gainsbourg are quite good. But the best bits are turned in from the supporting cast, particularly Kiefer Sutherland, Stellan Skaarsgard and a brittle and wickedly funny Charlotte Rampling.

I doubt there’ll be a second Palme d’Or for von Trier (he won in 2000 for Dancer In The Dark). Unless they give these things out for putting your foot in your mouth.