'Nymphomaniac' sneaks into Sundance

05:00 AM, Jan 22, 2014

Shia LaBeouf stars in "Nymphomaniac." Evan Agostini, Invision/AP/


Written By by Andrea Mandell, USA TODAY

PARK CITY, Utah — On Sunday, publicists asked journalists at the Sundance Film Festival to upend their schedules and make room for “an exclusive and super-secret” screening Tuesday night. No details were given, except that it was a “highly anticipated film” that should not be missed.

In short, they delivered.

Nymphomaniac: Volume I, Lars von Trier’s latest film dedicated to the emotional and physical journey of a young woman whose sexual identity starts at a remarkably young age, began screening to the crashing notes of German death metal at 9 p.m. on Tuesday. Nymphomaniac had been the top pick for the 280 gathered journalists and film fans speculating on the “secret” film.

While exceedingly graphic, Nymphomaniac is no porno. “The secret ingredient to sex is love,” intones Joe (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg in older years and Stacy Martin in younger), as the film explores the compulsion, euphoria and vulnerability of a self-identifying nymphomaniac, while lacing in a surprising amount of humor.

Stellan Skarsgard (in a remarkable performance) plays a kindly stranger who finds the older Joe bloodied and limp in a snow-dusted alley. He offers her respite in his home, and she begins to tell her story of sexual birth and ultimate hardening.

Back in 2012, star Shia LaBeouf described a request from von Trier’s team asking for photos of his nether regions for film prosthetics. “I framed the e-mail,” he said, laughing.

Recent troublesaside, LaBeouf takes a marked step forward by delivering his most adult performance to date as Jerome, a man who both takes Joe’s virginity and later breaks her heart. “Sex is different than love, and there is a separation, and that middle gap is what the movie’s about,” LaBeouf told USA TODAY.

On Tuesday, the Sundance audience sat stunned and enraptured throughout the two-hour film, which will be joined by a Volume 2 at an unspecified date. Preview clips of that film rolled during the credits (and included even more eyebrow-raising footage than Part 1). Nymphomaniac premieres in theaters on March 21.