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“This is Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. I,’” deadpanned Jytte Jensen, a curator in the film department at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art, in introductory remarks to a packed theater on Thursday night. “It’s about fly-fishing.”
The audience, of course, knew better. “Nymphomaniac” tells the hot-and-heavy tale of a self-professed sex addict, played by the French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg as an adult and newcomer Stacy Martin as a young woman. For months, since its release late last year in Europe, it’s been the subject of controversy for its graphic sexual scenes, becoming just the latest provocation from the acclaimed if attention-seeking Danish auteur.
Stellan Skarsgård, who stars in the movie, doesn’t get what all the fuss is about.
“Anything that has to do with sexuality is a little weirder in the United States than in Scandinavia, I can tell you that,” he said. The Swede was in fact puzzled by Americans’ prudishness.
“I heard there was [a controversy] when Janet Jackson happened to show her breast at the Super Bowl, you know, and it’s unbelievable that anybody can be upset about that,” he said. “It’s just a nipple. Most of us have sucked one.”
The controversy surrounding the film had its intended effect and the screening at the museum drew a buzzy cast of characters — stars Uma Thurman and Christian Slater as well as Gillian Anderson, Kathleen Hanna, Emmy Rossum, Norman Reedus, Michael Shannon, Gina Gershon and Andrew VanWyngarden of the band MGMT. Shia LaBeouf, who stars in the movie and is himself no stranger to bad press, was a no-show.
A film so ripe with sexual content lent itself to all sorts of innuendo and at the after party at Butter Midtown, guests were greeted with goodie bags that included a few, er, props for the boudoir from Jimmyjane, the luxury sex accessories company. A photo booth urged partygoers to “Show Us Your O-Face,” a reference to the film’s posters, which feature its stars at the point of sexual climax. Jamie Bell’s in particular is priceless.
Gainsbourg, a longtime collaborator of the director’s, said he isn’t shocking just for shock’s sake. The film, which is five-and-a-half hours long in its full, uncut version (New York saw a two-hour cut), is the third and final entry in his so-called Depression Trilogy, after “Antichrist” and “Melancholia.”
“Of course, the sexual aspect of this film made it very extreme,” she said. “It wasn’t always about being naked, though — I didn’t have to be that naked in the film — but it was actually the suffering aspect that was quite intense. You have to be willing to put yourself into the suffering,” she said, though she added it wasn’t all a dreary Danish night at the cinema. “There was a lot of humor in the film,” she said. “Lars’ sense of humor.”