'Nymphomaniac': What the fuss is about

By Helen Barlow

Sophie Kennedy Clark and Stacy Martin in a scene from Nymphomaniac.
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Sophie Kennedy Clark and Stacy Martin in a scene from Nymphomaniac. .

The movie Nymphomaniac arrives on New Zealand screens tomorrow with a reputation for being the most sexually provocative European arthouse film in some time.

Officially titled Nymph()maniac, it's the latest work from frequently controversial Danish enfant terrible director Lars von Trier.

It's his first release since he became persona non grata at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011after his attempts at Nazi humour during a press conference backfired.

He's refused to do any more interviews ever since and the publicity materials for Nymph()maniac include a picture of von Trier gagged with tape.

The movie is being released here after showing at the Berlin Film Festival in February.

As the title suggests it's a film largely about sex with its local R18 censorship rating warning that it "contains explicit sexual material and content that may disturb".

But it sure is no quickie. The version screening locally delivers both of its "volumes" one and two - which were split into separate releases in the US - in one session which together take just over four hours, complete with interval.

That's a reduction from the five and a half hour reputedly even more hardcore version which screened in Berlin.

It's part of a bigger work too, being the third part of von Trier's so-called "depression trilogy" after 2009's Antichrist and 2011's Melancholia.

Like many of von Trier's past films, it features some prominent Hollywood faces doing things you don't usually see them doing. Though body doubles from the porn industry and prosthetics were employed in the more explicit encounters.

Overseas reviews have been largely positive, with many critics noting it's one of von Trier's funnier films.

Here's a guide to various aspects of Nymph()maniac and what - apart from sex - the rest of the movie is about ...

The story

It's the story of a troubled woman named Joe who declares herself a nymphomaniac and "a terrible human being".

We first see her at 50, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg (now 42) lying battered in an alley of an unnamed British city (the film was shot in Germany and Belgium) where she is rescued by Stellan Skarsgard's scholar Seligman and then propped up in his bed to tell her life story.

She recounts the sexual experiences of her younger self (Stacy Martin) which includes losing her virginity at 15 to Jerome (former Transformers star Shia LaBeouf).

She comes to love Jerome much later. In the meantime she has multiple lovers every day for years. She becomes a mother but her urges remain and she finds solace paying for beatings from S&M practitioner, K, played by the voice of Tin Tin himself, Jamie Bell.

The casting

LaBeouf and Bell aren't the only well known faces to feature - the cast also includes Willem Dafoe (who appeared opposite Gainsbourg in Antichrist), Uma Thurman (in her second two volume film after Tarantino's double feature Kill Bill) and Christian Slater (as Joe's ailing father).

His involvement with the European art cinema heavyweight seems to have had a odd effect on the already troubled LaBeouf.

After storming out of Nymph()maniac's Berlin festival press conference, he wore a paper bag on his head emblazoned with "I am not famous anymore" on the red carpet for the film's premiere.

The 27 year-old is currently dating 19 year-old Mia Goth, who appears in Nymphomaniac as Joe's lesbian lover.

The scene stealer

It's Thurman who steals the show and she does it fully clothed. The Kill Bill star plays a betrayed wife who arrives at Joe's apartment with her three young sons and lets rip about her spouse's infidelities.

"It was really a great challenge for me to memorise Lars's seven-page diatribe of rage, "she says. "We kept doing these 25-minute takes all day. It was refreshing to get to work in that way and it was quite muscular to do."

Nymph()maniac will be reviewed in tomorrow's TimeOut. It will be screening at the Rialto Newmarket and Academy cinemas in Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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