The longer, more explicit version of scandal-courting Danish director Lars von Trier’s sex addiction opus Nymphomaniac Volume I premiered to cheers at the Berlin film festival on Sunday.
But while the no-holds-barred director’s cut of the film generated excitement at the 64th Berlinale, the antics of the cast and crew threatened to upstage the screening.
Von Trier, 57, who took a “vow of silence” with the media after being booted out of Cannes for a maladroit Nazi joke to reporters in 2011, showed up at a photo call wearing a “persona non grata” T-shirt with Cannes’ golden palm leaf logo.
He refused to join the subsequent news conference, leaving his stars Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman and newcomer Stacy Martin to face the press.
But when fielding his first question, about doing a movie with so much sex, a scowling LaBeouf quoted French footballer Eric Cantona’s infamous insult of a pesky press corps.
“When seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea,” he said.
The 27-year-old actor, wearing a dirty baseball cap and chomping on chewing gum, then marched out of the room, drawing stunned smirks from the rest of the cast.
The actor then arrived on the red carpet for the film’s premiere wearing a paper bag over his head.
The actor posed for photographers in a stylish tuxedo — and a paper bag with eyeholes and the words “I am not famous anymore” written across it. LaBeouf has frequently used the statement on his Twitter page, and he was identifiable by a tattoo on his hand.
The uncensored, two-and-a-half-hour-long Nymphomaniac Volume I, nevertheless went down a storm at an afternoon press preview.
The movie, which screened out of competition, tells the story of Joe, played by Anglo-French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, and her sexual awakening from birth to age 50.
The picture opens with Joe lying beaten in an alleyway when the kindly intellectual Seligman (Skarsgard) comes upon her and takes her home with him.
She begins confiding her life story, including how she lost her virginity in a degrading encounter with a man who will repeatedly surface in her life (LaBeouf).
Grasping her “power as a woman” over men who want sex from her, Joe enters into a competition with a friend as to who can seduce the most strangers on a train within an hour, with extra points for conquering a devoted married man.
Even as her friend later embarks on a relationship and abandons their escapades, Joe’s sexual appetites become more insatiable and compulsive.
“Love is just lust with jealousy,” Joe says dismissively.
For a film with major Hollywood actors, the erotic encounters leave little to the imagination.
Martin, a model in her first film role, said that she developed a relationship with von Trier and her on-screen lovers which allowed her to abandon her inhibitions.
“I’ve always really loved his films so for me the sex scenes really were part of the film and I trusted Lars… so immediately it makes the job much easier,” she told reporters.
“I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t really have anything to lose, being my first film.”
Thurman, who turns in a fierce, hilarious performance as a wronged wife and mother of three, said von Trier’s more theatrical approach to filmmaking with extremely long takes was “unbelievably refreshing and lively and exciting”.
“Lars wrote this basically fantastic monologue — this fury of a woman scorned,” she said.
“It was a really great challenge to memorise seven pages of Lars’ female diatribe of rage.”
Producer Louise Vesth said the version of Nymphomaniac Volume I seen in Berlin included more graphic footage than the film that has already released in some markets.
“The sexual content is more explicit in the long version than the short one,” she said.
“It’s not like it’s another story, it’s kind of all the material that Lars wanted to use from the shooting is in the long version and therefore you will have a deeper feeling of the topics discussed in the film.”
She said it was not yet clear when the uncut Volume Two at a length of around three hours would be shown.