On-screen shock, off-screen drama for von Trier in Berlin

Mrs. H (Uma Thurman), Mr. H (Hugo Speer) and Young Joe (Stacy Martin) in a scene from Lars von Trier's sex addiction opus "Nymphomaniac Volume I." (photos courtesy of the Berlinale)

BERLIN: The longer, more explicit version of scandal-courting Danish director Lars von Trier’s sex addiction opus “Nymphomaniac Volume I” premiered to loud applause Sunday at the Berlin International Film Festival.

While the film’s no-holds-barred director’s cut generated excitement at the 64th Berlinale, where it is screening out of competition, the antics of the cast and crew threatened to upstage the actual screening.

The 57-year-old Von Trier, who took a “vow of silence” with the media after being booted out of Cannes for a maladroit Nazi joke to reporters in 2011, showed up at a photo call wearing a “persona non grata” T-shirt emblazoned with Cannes’ golden palm leaf logo.

Von Trier refused to join the subsequent news conference, leaving his stars Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman and newcomer Stacy Martin to face the press.

Asked about doing a movie with so much sex, a scowling LaBeouf quoted French footballer Eric Cantona’s infamous insult of a pesky press corps.

“When seagulls follow the trawler,” he said, “it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”

Wearing a soiled baseball cap and masticating on chewing gum, the 27-year-old actor then marched out of the room, drawing stunned smirks from the rest of the cast.

The main event, the world premiere of the uncensored, two-and-a-half-hour-long “Nymphomaniac Volume I,” nevertheless went down a storm at an afternoon press preview.

The movie traces the story of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her sexual awakening from birth to age 50.

The picture opens with Joe lying beaten in an alleyway when the kindly intellectual Seligman (Skarsgard) comes upon her and takes her home with him. She begins confiding her life story, including how she lost her virginity in a degrading encounter with a man who will repeatedly surface in her life (LaBeouf).

Grasping her “power as a woman” over men who want sex from her, Joe enters into a competition with a friend as to who can seduce the most strangers on a train within an hour, with extra points for conquering a devoted married man.

Even as her friend later embarks on a relationship and abandons their escapades, Joe’s sexual appetites become more insatiable and compulsive.

“Love,” Joe says dismissively, “is just lust with jealousy.”

For a film with major Hollywood actors, the erotic encounters leave little to the imagination – complete with full-frontal nudity and explicit sex acts filmed using porn actors as doubles and prostheses.

A model in her first film role, Martin said that she developed a relationship with von Trier and her on-screen lovers which allowed her to abandon her inhibitions.

“I’ve always really loved his films so for me the sex scenes really were part of the film,” she told reporters. “I trusted Lars ... so immediately it makes the job much easier. I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t really have anything to lose, being my first film.”

Thurman, who turns in a fierce, hilarious performance as a wronged wife and mother of three, said von Trier’s more theatrical approach to filmmaking with extremely long takes was “unbelievably refreshing and lively and exciting.”

“Lars wrote this basically fantastic monologue – this fury of a woman scorned,” she said. “It was a really great challenge to memorize seven pages of Lars’ female diatribe of rage.”

Producer Louise Vesth said the version of “Nymphomaniac Volume I” seen in Berlin included more graphic footage than the film that has already released in some markets.

“The sexual content is more explicit in the long version than the short one,” she said. “It’s not like it’s another story. It’s kind of all the material that Lars wanted to use from the shooting is in the long version and therefore you will have a deeper feeling of the topics discussed in the film.”

She said it was not yet clear when the uncut Volume II, running some three hours long, would be shown.

The Berlinale continues until Feb 16. For more information see

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 11, 2014, on page 16.




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