Director Lars Von Trier poses during a photocall for the film "Melancholia", in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. Photo: Reuters

Cannes -

Danish film director Lars von Trier rocked the Cannes Film Festival Wednesday with seemingly half-hearted remarks expressing sympathy for Hitler and criticising the state of Israel.

“I understand Hitler,” the 55-year-old director told a press conference marking the premiere of his latest film Melancholia. “I think he did some wrong things. I can see him sitting in his bunker,” he said.

His comments, which appeared to be said in jest, threatened to overshadow the movie that is the story of two middle-aged sisters set against the end of the world, as a planet called Melancholia threatens to collide with earth.

The movie draws strongly on notions of German romanticism with the story played out against the overture from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.

“I understand the man,” said von Trier referring to the Nazi leader. “He is not what you'd call a good guy. I sympathise with him,” he told the startled press conference.

However, the director went on to say his sympathies for Hitler did not mean he supported the Second World War and attacks on the Jews.

Von Trier, who has suffered from long bouts of depression, said he had no problems with the Jewish community, but he was not so happy about Israel. He described the Jewish state as “a pain in the a**” at times.

Von Trier continued his rant as embarrassed laughter among the assembled press descended into hushed silence.

The director told reporters he liked Albert Speer, the Third Reich's chief architect. “I liked him. He had some talent. OK I'm a Nazi.” - Sapa-dpa