Screen International critic Jonathan Romney examines what’s new in Lars von Trier’s directors cut of Nymphomaniac Vol 1.
Within seconds of the Berlinale screening of Lars von Trier’s director’s cut of Nymphomaniac Vol 1, the controversy had begun.
Technically, at least - if by controversy, you mean me and a bunch of other critics standing outside the Palast wracking our brains to compare the uncut Vol. 1 screened here and the shorter version already released in several territories.
One version of what we might expect came from earlier statements from the film’s producers that the shorter cut (allegedly not seen by von Trier himself) was missing only a number of graphic genital close-ups - but could that really account for a full 28-minute difference between the original 117 and the 145 billed in the Berlinale programme?
Perhaps von Trier would play a cruel trick on us and offer us an extremely long single-take close-up of his own willy - just because he could.
But his trick on the critics, if that’s what it is, is crueller still.
Love the film or hate it, we’ve all been lured back to sit through a film that’s only minimally different from the original - so much so that five critics huddled together couldn’t entirely agree in what way Vol. 1 Uncut (or Redux, if you prefer) is significantly different.
One rumour I’d heard was that this version would feature an abortion scene involving heroine Joe. In fact, there is a slightly longer (and relatively discreet) sequence involving an abortion, but it only adds a couple more shots of medics and another vaginal insertion shot.
And yes, there are a few more erect penises on view, notably in a late love scene between Joe and her lover Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), showing an erection (possibly the CGI that Zentropa has splashed out on).
There’s also a repeated extreme close-up shot of cunnilingus in the final ‘Little Organ School’ sequence.
But generally, what’s different about the film is not more sex, but more talk - including a little more of the ‘Little Flock’ sisterhood formed by Joe, with Sophie Kennedy Clark, as Joe’s friend B now standing up to narrate one of her own sexual adventures.
But if you really want something shocking, gird your loins for this: Nymphomania now features more hardcore botanical information.
Yes, there’s more talk between Joe and her dad (Christian Slater) about ash trees, and the hospital scene in which Dad expires slowly and painfully from cancer now feels longer and more painfully protracted - and definitely features a repetition of the earlier discussion about the Nordic myth of the ash tree.
The effect of this sequence is to slow the film down in the ‘Delirium’ section, to make it considerably grimmer - and to emphasise that the film is as much about death as it is about sex.
The other element that’s new (although one critic was convinced he’d spotted this last time, but I’d put that down to delirium) is a bizarre brief shot in the initial ash-tree discussion- a black-and-white insert of the god Odin hanging in a tree like Jesus crucified.
All in all, it would be fair to say that the release-version cuts have served the film and the audiences pretty judiciously, not losing anything essential, but streamlining the longueurs of what for me was its least successful, certainly most melodramatic section, the ‘Delirium’ chapter.
That’s the ‘uncut’ Nymphomania, then. Longer, yes. Harder and faster, no.
Read what happened at the Nymphomaniac press conference here.