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Categories: Features

Here is Tom Floyd’s second guest article…

It seems like the publicity campaign for Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ was under way from more or less the moment the film was announced. That was around the time ‘Melancholia’ was released in 2011 – von Trier said he wanted to do a 5-hour Marquis de Sade adaptation starring Kirsten Dunst. With ‘real’ sex. It sounded like a joke, and Dunst didn’t look comfortable beside the director at that year’s Cannes, where he told the press “Israel is a pain in the ass,” claimed to sympathise with Hitler “a little bit” and was shortly asked to leave.

The 5-hour sex epic became ‘Nymphomaniac’ and it was quickly apparent Spiderman’s girlfriend wasn’t returning. We got Indiana Jones’ kid instead and the juicy report of Shia LaBeouf sending a sex tape to von Trier by way of audition. Was the director going to make all his stars do that? Would they all have ‘real’ sex on camera? Yes – this was exciting. No – we should all know better, such rumours are cheap tricks, Lars is a schlocky and burned out provocateur (‘Whatever – just keep talking’, says the marketing department). The film’s cast list grew and grew and the posters of everyone making their orgasm faces appeared and soon we were calling it Nymph()maniac. The () works on two levels: a vagina made from punctuation flatters the cultural theorist in this generation of Humanities grads, and also, look, a fanny!

As release approach it was confirmed that von Trier had shot a 5 hour film but handed it over to an editor to cut two 2-hour volumes for general release. He couldn’t bear to cut it himself. There was a happy appearance at this year’s Berlin, where the director wore a T- shirt making fun of Cannes and didn’t talk to anyone (His career proves the cliché about publicity). The movies arrived in the UK on the 22nd February with an initial ‘One Night Stand’ run by the Curzon cinemas, in which both volumes were shown back to back all over the country, accompanied by satellite broadcast of a special event in the Curzon Chelsea. A one-off showing of both films together lets us feel good about ourselves for honouring the intentions of the artist who couldn’t bear to cut his own work, and also appeals to those of us who are constitutionally afraid of ‘missing out’ on anything whatsoever in the culture. The satellite event was Edith Bowman introducing the film and talking to the Chelsea audience while asking the rest of us to tweet our orgasm faces and questions for the cast who would join her after.


I remain suspicious of anything that has to ask me to tweet, and ‘event cinema’ usually depresses me, simply by reminding me that cinema is in crisis and needs events to sustain it. But in the case of Nymphomaniac’s One Night Stand everything seemed to come together. Perhaps it’s because the film itself is so aware of its gestational history and its director’s reputation. It starts with a lengthy black screen and intermittent sounds – the dripping of water, the rumbling of traffic – as if picking up where ‘Melancholia’ left off. This also lets it sink in that we’re watching a von Trier film – the longer he holds a black screen the more we feel that the first image is going to be shocking – the surety that something intense must happen chokes us. It plays with our expectations from the get go, then turns out to be the director’s lightest, most playful, fun film to date. It is about language as much as it is about sex – about how we construct our own stories and try and find meaning in other’s – how we make images and why we must keep inventing new ones. So tweeting our own photos seems appropriate and becomes irresistible. The film is constantly referencing its own construction and artifice, so Stellan joking during intermission becomes exciting. In the final analysis ‘Nymphomaniac’ is very open, full of life and conversation, and terrifically infectious. Perhaps the highest praise I can think of for seeing it on opening night is that during the interval a friend I hadn’t seen for a couple of years phoned me from the other end of the country to talk about what we’d experienced so far. We had a great chat. With Lars hosting, on this form, it’s impossible not to.


Christabel Samuel is a writer, director and editor. Having graduated from University College London with a BA in English Literature and an MA in Film Studies she is now a self-taught filmmaker, writer and perpetual learner. She won funding in 2011 for Lust in Translation and has gone on to judge at the London Film Festival, been appointed Head of Film for The Book Magazine and is currently editor-in-chief for The Spread.

Posted on Mar 4, 2014

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