If there’s one director working today who never fails to cause some controversy, it’s Lars von Trier. The intellectually rigorous, punishingly pessimistic Danish auteur famously found himself banned from the Cannes Film Festival last year after joking about being a Nazi during a press conference for his bleak Melancholia. Still, Kirsten Dunst went on to pick up an award at Cannes for Best Actress, proving that his work can speak loudly enough for itself. It is no small provocation, then, when Peter Aalbaek Jensen, who is producing von Trier’s next film, The Nymphomaniac, mentions he is already lining up for a run at Cannes next year.
In an interview with Screen Daily, Jensen announced that Nymphomaniac will be split into two parts, stretching out what is said to be the saga of a women’s sexual history from her birth until the age of fifty. “We are making two films. It is a big operation,” he said. “I personally hope that we should be ready for Cannes next year.” Filming is set to take place this summer in Germany, with Charlotte Gainsbourg, who was fantastically rapacious in von Trier’s Antichrist, set to star.
If a film so determinedly about sex from a European art-house icon sounds like code for artsy porn, it’s a pretty good bet that von Trier won’t be letting anyone in his audience get too aroused. Most of his films to date have been reliably troubling, intense inquisitions into the darkest corners of human nature. He has confronted us with the failures of loyalty in Breaking the Waves, the aftereffects of slavery in Manderlay, and the cluelessness of American imperialism in Dogville. In Antichrist, he gave us sex as mortal sin. The world ended in a ball of fire in Melancholia. Even the musical Dancer in the Dark ended with an execution.
Still, von Trier certainly knows his way around graphic sex scenes. His The Idiots from 1998 set a new benchmark for explicit sex, setting the standard for a run of films featuring unsimulated copulation that offered a chance for titillating voyeurism without von Trier’s philosophical foundation. He also oversaw the production of a number of real pornos under the aegis of his company Zentropa. There’s no question that the sex will be copious in Nymphomaniac—the title alone makes that clear—but chances are the body part that we’ll be seeing the clearest will be the heart.