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Von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac' struggles with Israeli release

Von Trier's Cannes Film Festival 'Nazi' controversy, explicit sexual scenes or just plain financial reasons?

As the first part of Lars von Trier's latest film, "Nymphomaniac" (which stars Charlotte Gainsbourg) is released across the United States, following a wide release across Europe and South America, warm reception in the Berlinale and Sundance film festivals and positive reviews – it has yet to find an Israeli distributor, despite the fact that von Trier's films are usually comparatively popular with local audiences.

One could speculate as to why the film has not been picked up yet. "Nymphomaniac", as the title may suggest, deals with the sexual history of a woman (portrayed by Gainsbourg; newcomer Stacy Martin plays a younger version of her) and its sex scenes are uncensored and mostly unsimulated. The explicit content found the film being banned in Turkey and in Romania, but Israel has a rather progressive history regarding sexual scenes in cinema – in the 1970s, Israeli films often attracted European audiences in part thanks to their liberally shot scenes depicting nudity and sexuality.

"Nyphomaniac" - Green Band trailer:

The assumption that these difficulties may have to do with the controversy Von Trier generated at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival don't hold up under scrutiny. During a press conference to promote the screening of his previous film, "Melancholia", a question regarding his previous comments about the Nazi aesthetic quickly escalated into a bizzare rant where he claimed to "sympathize with Hitler" and that he was a Nazi during a press conference. He later apologized profusely and claimed to have been joking in poor taste. He has nevertheless been declared "persona non grata" by Cannes Film Festival's management. But even though this incident was extensively covered by Israel's arts and culture press, it has not stopped "Melancholia" from being distributed in Israel when the incident was much fresher in the public mind.

Therefore, it seems that the root of trouble for "Nymphomaniac" is rather commercial. At a total runtime exceeding five hours, it is the longest film von Trier has made so far, which means distributors either have to split it into two volumes (as has been done for the U.S. release) or deal with a film that's challenging to watch – either way, ticket sales would be hampered. Worldwide, over a month-long release, the film made a little over $10 million dollars – a fine sum considering its modest $4.7 million budget, but one not promising great revenue for distributors catering to a small niche market interested in arthouse cinema.

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