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Selling Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac': How To Create a Sexy, Controversial Hit

By Boyd van Hoeij | Indiewire December 12, 2013 at 1:07PM

Lars von Trier's scandalous epic screened for press last week in Denmark. Will the rest of the world be able to handle it?
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"Nymphomaniac"
"Nymphomaniac"

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'
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. 

This article is related to: News, Nymphomaniac: Volume I, Lars von Trier, Danish, Zentropa, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Sexuality, Magnolia Pictures





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