Lars von Trier’s Pornographic “Nymphomania”: How Far Will Charlotte Gainsbourg Go?

Lars von Trier’s Pornographic “Nymphomania”: How Far Will Charlotte Gainsbourg Go?
Not out of the woods yet: Charlotte Gainsbourg in Lars von Trier's "Antichrist."
(IFC Films)

Lars von Trier isn’t alone among arthouse or indie directors who have depicted actual sex in films. Von Trier showed it in “The Idiots” (1998), Bruno Dumont in “La Vie de Jésus” (1997), Catherine Breillat in “Romance” (1999), and Michael Winterbottom in “9 Songs” (2004), while Vincent Gallo was the recipient of unsimulated oral sex from Chloë Sevigny in “The Brown Bunny” (2003). Marco Bellochio had paved the way for showing that particular act in 1986’s “Devil in the Flesh” (1986). Fellatio also featured in Patrice Chereau’s “Intimacy” (2001) and Carlos Reygadas’s “Battle in Heaven” (2005).

Von Trier will be the first reputable filmmaker, however, to make a hardcore pornographic film under the aegis of art. He will shoot graphic sex scenes for his next movie “Nymphomania,” which, as expected, is to be made in both hardcore and softcore versions. Filming begins in the German state of North-Rhine Wesphalia this summer, according to Hollywood Reporter.

Charlotte Gainsbourg, who played a woman who commits genital self-mutilation in von Trier’s “Antichrist” and the passive-aggressive Claire in his “Melancholia,” has been cast as the lead in “Nymphomania.” She will play “Joe,” who describes her sexual history from infancy to middle-age to an older bachelor, Seligman, to be played by Stellan Skarsgård.

It has not been revealed whether Gainsbourg will participate in the real sex scenes or whether body doubles will be used, as in “The Idiots.”

The indication that von Trier wants to tackle child sexuality in the film isn’t likely to dampen his reputation as an agent provocateur. Awarded “persona non grata” status at last year’s Cannes festival for his “All right, I’m a Nazi” faux pas, the Danish director could be courting membership of the pariah club.

The softcore version of the film is necessitated by the need for a mass audience. “If Lars wants to make explicit sex scenes in the film, he also has to make a version that can be shown on TV in Europe,” his producer Peter Aalback told The Guardian. “He has accepted that.”

In an interview with Modern Painters published last October, von Trier admitted he was enjoying doing the research for “Nymphomania.” “I have been meeting some old girlfriends and some women I knew in my youth who were really screwing around,” he said. “I’m having such a ball listening to all these stories. If the film has any of the enjoyment of the research, then it will be really joyful, even though it will contain tragic elements.”