The words of French footballer Eric Cantona were ringing in my ears when Shia LaBeouf, the actor who has rapidly turned plagiarism into an artform, walked out of the Berlin Festival's press conference for Nymphomaniac in the exact same fashion as the paparazzi-hating former Manchester United player had once done, uttering the words “When seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”
When seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea
The likes of Stellan Skarsgård and Christian Slater could only imagine what the young actor meant and made light of his speaking of mere fish without realising the cleverness of LaBeouf in localising his distain for the tabloid media following a question regarding the film's nude scenes.
Even if in our previous interview for The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman LaBeouf had insisted he had done the sex scenes himself, a trade magazine here reports that both LaBeouf and British newcomer Stacy Martin—who plays the younger sexually-active version of Charlotte Gainsbourg's Joe in Volume 1 of the two-part movie—had body doubles for their bottom halves during their sex scenes. LaBeouf could be a big fibber, though I tend to believe him.
At the film's premiere, he possibly laboured his protests, wearing a paper bag over his head emblazoned with the words “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE,” which he has been posting on his Twitter account since Jan. 13. (Bill Murray, in our interview for The Grand Budapest Hotel, says he is looking forward to working with LaBeouf on Rock the Kasbah. LaBeouf's retirement from acting lasted a full three weeks.) Ultimately, Labeouf is a brother in arms with his director Lars von Trier. After travelling to Berlin, the Danish provocateur only attended the photo call for Nymphomaniac: Volume I, and did not speak to the press in keeping with his vow not to do so following his misguided attempt at Holocaust humour while promoting Melancholia in Cannes—and being banned from the festival. At his Berlin photocall, he wore a black t-shirt emblazoned with the Cannes logo and Persona Non Grata in white letters beneath and a black zip-through jacket, which he opened and closed to create a flashing neon effect.
When his producer Louise Vesth was asked if Volume II, which features Gainsbourg as the older Joe and actors who did not appear here (including Willem Dafoe, Jamie Bell, Jean-Marc Barr), might screen in Cannes, the question was shut down by the moderator who noted we were at the Berlin event. Vesth admitted that the sexually explicit film presented new challenges she had not encountered before and that Volume II “goes more to the heart of Lars's theme. It is more explicit”.
Reviewers who had seen both versions failed to pinpoint the 30 minutes that had been re-instated in the film, though the major cuts had been sexually related—male ejaculation, close-ups of female genitalia and cunnilingus—which looked like rump steak to me. The harrowing scene of Joe's father's disintegration into death is likewise now at its original length and provides an insight into her torment.
“Coming from Hollywood, it's nice to be on set and be given real time to capture moments,” said Slater, who is surprisingly understated in the role. Still, everyone agreed that Uma Thurman stole the show in her wryly hilarious role as a bourgeois wife and mother whose husband has left her for Joe. It was as if von Trier gave the two major stars big scenes to lure them to his film.
“Lars kept telling me that I was over-acting, but that is nothing new,” Thurman admitted of channelling the "fury of a woman scorned”. “It was really a great challenge for me to memorise Lars' seven-page diatribe of rage. We kept doing these 25-minute takes all day. It was refreshing to get to work in that way and was quite muscular to do. It was almost like acting in the theatre or acting for the first time in a film.”
“It's one of the funniest scenes I've read,” added Skarsgård, a von Trier regular speaking in his director's defence. “Lars is a very funny man. People have to learn to laugh at him a lot more than they do.”
The story is told in flashbacks after Skarsgård's philosophising loner picks up Joe in a blind alley and she recalls her past. The two characters, Skarsgård says, represent the two vastly different sides of von Trier.
The film has been well received by critics.
Variety's Scott Foundas writes: “In either edit, the movie remains a ferociously entertaining experience in which one finds von Trier at the peak of his craft, linking together ideas about female sexuality, fly-fishing and artistic creation with equal amounts of playfulness and intellectual rigor. As one surprised journalist told the cast (and, by extension, their absent director) at the press conference, “It was a lot more fun than we expected.”