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by Boyd van Hoeij
December 12, 2013 1:07 PM
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Selling Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac': How To Create a Sexy, Controversial Hit


Everyone knows that sex sells. Lars von Trier's latest film, "Nymphomaniac," has a lot of it. So one might assume its box office potential is pretty big.

But it might not be that cut and dried. With von Trier, it never is.

For starters, there’s sex on film and then there’s explicit sex on film — more often called porn. Except this is auteur porn and though there’s a lot of sex, there’s even more time dedicated to character, story and countless intellectual digressions. Not a lot of curious horndogs looking to get off on their favorite stars having explicit sex (via body doubles) are likely to sit through an arthouse film that’s at least double a regular feature’s length. Or are they?

READ MORE: Sophie Kennedy Clark on Giving Her Best O-Face for Her 'Nymphomaniac' Character Poster

Uma Thurman in 'Nymphomaniac'

"Nymphomaniac," an epic and explicit exploration of a woman’s life and lovers over five decades, is indeed really long -- so long, in fact, that it's been divided into two parts, made up of a total of eight chapters, with immediate stiffy-inducing titles such as "The Eastern and the Western Church." Only von Trier could try to make such disparate elements come together meaningfully in a single film.

The film screened for the press for the first time last week in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen. Present for the press junket were the trio of main actors, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard and newcomer Stacy Martin, who plays Gainsbourg’s character as a girl. Conspicuously absent was one man: von Trier himself.

Certainly one of the year's most eagerly awaited arthouse titles, "Nymphomaniac" is also the first film for which the Danish provocateur and auteur -- post-Nazi incident in Cannes -- has decided to do no press at all. Though this meant that the Copenhagen event was essentially a Lars von Trier junket without Lars von Trier, it also meant that his two-part opus could speak even more loudly for itself.

READ MORE: Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac' Divided In Two, Sets U.S. Theatrical And VOD Release Dates

Speaking to the press at the Danish Film Institute, "Nympomaniac" marketing director Philip Einstein Lipski said that Von Trier's silence was actually "very liberating" for the marketing people. It will no doubt also help fuel even more discussions after audiences have started to see the film in theaters and on VOD.

The superb and eye-catching character poster campaign, with all the actors doing their "O" faces, was Lipski's idea (with his wife's collaboration). Von Trier also participated in the marketing meetings and, always the provocateur, came up with elements including the suggestively bracketed spelling of “Nymph( )maniac,” and the complimentary tagline "Forget About Love."

Von Trier's five-hour version reportedly contains an abortion scene absent from the shorter cut.

The idea that had to be conveyed to audiences, according to Lipski, was that "anyone who has ever had sex could be interested in this movie."

"Nymphomaniac" will be released in several European countries, including Denmark, on Christmas Day. While this might seem a stroke of counterprogramming genius, producer Louise Vesth offered an alternative rationale: that the film needs a period in which people have enough free time to actually go and see both two-hour parts. That said, the extremely explicit content hardly makes it a film for the whole family, though it could work as counter-programming for arthouse-savvy patrons.

READ MORE: It's Here! Watch the First Full Trailer for Lars von Trier's Hotly Anticipated 'Nymphomaniac'

International distributors, however, are free to choose how the film will be released in their territories, and in many countries the two parts will be released separately -- including in the U.S., where part one will come out in March and part two will follow in April (Magnolia will make the film available on VOD a few weeks before the theatrical release dates).

Reviews are officially embargoed until closer to the release, but the press was allowed to talk about the junket and the interviews beforehand. The version shown last week was the official four-hour version, which consists of two volumes: part one, which runs 110 minutes, and part two, which clocks in at 130 minutes. According to Vesth, this is the only version ready at the moment. However, von Trier's five-hour version, reportedly 90 minutes longer, was the version screened for the actors before the junket. It reportedly contains an abortion scene absent from the shorter cut, as well as more material from the AA-type group meetings the protagonist, Joe, attends so she can talk about her sex addiction. 

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  • j | March 15, 2014 6:14 AMReply

    RUBBISH. What a waste of time.

  • Paul | December 16, 2013 2:47 PMReply

    Everyone who has ever had sex will NEVER be interested in this movie! :)

    This movie is not only for the dregs of society but for the most childish part of it, those who forgot themselves in childhood. Really, who in normal mind needs somebody's else maniacal sex experience having their own good?! who needs other's sickness and shit? Who wanna spoil his nice sex impressions with the unattractive dirty-look 4-5 hours rubbish with ugly actresses & actors written by the old madman?! Are you serious?! Is Charlotte Ginsburg any sexy?! Then you have never seen beautiful and sexy women! This woman ilooks a really night mare! I'll better stay along and without sex at all than make love with her! and all people i know think the same!

    Emanuelle 1976 and Historie d'O 1975 are both a beautiful poetic EROTIC dramas of the highest taste, perfect style; with beautiful actors/actresses which brilliantly tell the stories of people from the upper class. The Nymphomaniac is a dirty unprofessional PORNOGRAPHY of/for the down class (read - dregs of society, lumpen elements). Trier doesn't even hide the plagiarism with "O" symbolic and things related to the "Story of O" book (1954) and film (1975) ..but he would better take his dirty hands off the beautiful French erotic classic! He has neither brain nor taste or background to understand it, needless to say about repeating.
    What do you mean speaking about box-office? What? what? "sex always sells well"? Firstly: not always! (never say never, never say always). Secondly: SEX yes! dirty pornography with ugly actors not!
    I'm waiting for the empty box-office and with impatience! as well as another scandal that stop Lars von "Tripper" forever!

    The Waiter.

  • billies.climer10@yahoo.com | December 13, 2013 11:03 AMReply

    my roomate's mother makes $80 an hour on the computer. She has been without a job for 9 months but last month her pay check was $19253 just working on the computer for a few hours. learn the facts here now http://7.ly/dape

  • Sebastian Selig | December 13, 2013 5:55 AMReply

    Still think this will become a box office hit in the dimension of EMANUELLE 1974 (with all the cosequences like countless ripp-offs flushing into the europe market, changing it back into the hotbed of sin it felt like during the seventies). The time is right for NYMPHOMANIAC to take them all. To bring "arthouse"- and "mainstream"-audiences to their knees before the goddess of voluptuousness.

  • Jon | December 12, 2013 11:31 PMReply

    Misogynists may like movies like this. The redemption is catharsis. That doesn't make Lars von Trier a misogynist. It makes him a businessman, even though that may not be his intent. The same applies to any film that appeals to misogynists.

  • Mark | December 12, 2013 7:37 PMReply

    Indiewire, why are you guys so desperate for clicks--sending out pics of sex scenes on every newsletter?

  • Jon | December 12, 2013 11:33 PM

    So people like you will pay attention?

  • Dave | December 12, 2013 3:25 PMReply

    Loved this article! Well put, I think you're right on the money when you say he's not a misogynist and as a marketing student I'm always fascinated with his brilliant salesman techniques. While I don't necessarily see this film doing great box office I think (or hope) it's going to be a hit on home video.