Between director Lars von Trier’s custom “persona non grata” T-shirt and star Shia LaBeouf’s press-conference walkout and paper-bag mask, “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1” generated at least as much attention offscreen as it did on Sunday afternoon at the Berlin Film Festival. Meanwhile, inside the packed 1,600-seat Berlinale Palast, audiences got their first look at the bigger, longer and uncut version of von Trier’s magnum opus — or, at least, the first part of it, with the uncut “Vol. 2” expected to premiere at another high-profile festival sometime later in the year.
And there was quite a lot more to see — 30 minutes’ worth, to be exact — of the Danish director’s bifurcated magnum opus, compared with the edited version released commercially in Europe last December and screened at the Sundance Film Festival last month. But both in the lobby following the screening and on social media afterward, many critics — including this one — were at a loss to itemize exactly which scenes and sequences had been augmented for this director’s cut. “Was the Proust joke there before?” asked one colleague, while another suggested that an early shot of the Norse mythological god Odin sitting in a tree might have been a new addition.
One thing everyone could agree on: The longer “Vol. 1” includes a modicum of more explicit sexual footage, most conspicuously during an episode of oral sex on a moving train that now features a screen-filling closeup of an ejaculating penis where none was before. An erect member belonging either to Mr. LaBeouf or his body double also makes a more prominent appearance during the end-of-“Vol. 1” sex scene in which the movie’s titular heroine, Joe (played as a young woman by newcomer Stacy Martin and, in middle age, by Charlotte Gainsbourg), loses all feeling … down there.
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Among less sensational additions, a visit by Joe to her dying father (Christian Slater) has been significantly expanded. Alas, it appears that von Trier had already used every available frame of “Vol. 1’s” most showstopping encounter — the confrontation of Joe by one of her lovers’ jilted wife (Uma Thurman) — the first time around. Hell hath no fury like a woman dumped for a sex addict.
Structurally, however, the two versions of the film are the same, meaning audiences who see the shorter “Vol. 1” in general release or on VOD when it opens in the U.S. this spring needn’t feel they’re missing out on all that much (compared with, say, movies like “Heaven’s Gate” and “Once Upon a Time in America” that had entire hours shorn from them for mass-audience consumption). 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.”