‘Nymph()maniac’: The History of an Opus


Nymph()maniac was always destined to grab headlines. The history of Lars Von Trier’s epic opus Nymph()maniac is as long and dense as the film itself. But Lars Von Trier has always been a filmmaker who pushes the boundaries of filmmaking far past where many would dare to go. Starring the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourgh, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman and Christian Slater, Nymph()maniac is sure to draw more than a few curious eyes, despite the controversial subject matter. Being one of the founders of the Dogme 95 movement, Lars Von Trier has always demanded that film should never be content with simply rehashing the same old scenes. The evocative auteur believes film should be a constantly evolving art form capable of creating deep discussions surrounding challenging and sometimes rather unpleasant themes.

Conceived back in 2011 while on the set of his film Melancholia, Von Trier’s two-part film was always intended to be massive in scale. The idea was first birthed when Von Trier’s Melancholia director of photography Manuel Claro joked with his friend not to fall into the trapping of other older directors by having all of the women become younger and more nude in subsequent films. Von Trier responded by telling his friend that he most definitely intended for the women in his films to get younger and younger and nuder and nuder.

Nymph()maniac is a poetic tale that tells the story of a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac woman named Joe played by Charlotte Gainsbourgh. The film follows her erotic journey from birth up to the age of fifty. In the film, a charming, older bachelor named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) finds a beaten and bloody Joe lying in the street. He takes her back to his home and while tending to her wounds, asks her about her life story. Nymph()maniac is a sprawling epic that is split into two volumes with eight chapters. Shia LaBeouf recalled being terrified when sent the script with the disclaimer across the top that warned that the film will be as real as possible.

Production got underway on Nymph()maniac on August 28th, 2012. Filming took a little over two months to complete and wrapped in early November. Shot in Germany and Belgium, the film was a huge undertaking for producer and Zentropa co-founder Peter Aalbaek Jensen. From the first script read, Jensen knew that two cuts would be required in order to sell the film in certain markets. Von Trier wanted to shoot scenes of unsimulated sex, despite very clear laws put in place against such things occurring on sets. In the end, Von Trier had to concede to shooting his scenes using the traditional pieces of protection for the actors simulating sex on screen. The director then digitally composited in genitals of porn actors where necessary. Despite the compromise, the film still features graphic nudity from most everyone in the cast.

The post-production history of Von Trier’s opus Nymph()maniac featured a first in the filmmaker’s storied career. Nymph()maniac will mark the first time the prolific auteur has not had final cut. Von Trier delivered a cut to his producer with a five-and-a-half hour running time across the two-part film. Jensen hired Morten Hojbjerg to trim the film down to a more marketable four hour run time. Jensen stated that the cuts are purely for a commercial reason and has no intentions of removing any of the film’s very explicit sex scenes. In the summer of 2013, Zentropa released the very popular and controversial promotional posters displaying the main cast’s expressive faces during moments of extreme pleasure.

Nymph()maniac Volume 1 and 2 opened in Spain and Denmark on December 25th and is available in other select countries. The two-part film is said to be the quintessential Von Trier film and may mark the auteur at the top of his game. This past January, Nymph()maniac Volume 1 held a surprise screening at the Sundance Film Festival, its first on American shores.  The film was very warmly received though, unlike the films found in Tarantino’s two-part Kill Bill series, Nymph()maniac Volume 1 and do not work as a stand-alone films whatsoever. There are currently rumors floating around that Von Trier may even screen his five-and-a-half-hour cut at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May. The history surrounding Lars Von Trier’s magnum opus Nymph()maniac only drives up interest in this one-of-a-kind, controversial and risqué two-part film.

By Benjamin Murray


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