The first installment of Lars von Trier’s much talked-about “Nymphomaniac,” starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård and Shia LeBeouf, premieres in the United States this weekend.
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In Israel, however, no release date has been announced, and although von Trier’s previous films have received positive welcomes from Israeli critics and audiences alike, it’s not even known whether “Nymphomaniac” was even picked up for distribution. In the absence of commercial screenings, Israelis would have to settle for reading about the movie, as in Turkey, where it was banned, or Romania, where the second part has been banned, or for downloading the film and seeing it on a small screen.
Why isn’t the film being distributed here, why isn’t there a release date? Perhaps local distributors are deterred by the graphic sex scenes, or by the controversy surrounding the director, who has publicly declared his admiration for Adolf Hitler. Alternatively, perhaps it is the movie’s high cost, relative to its estimated earning potential. In France, for example, even though the film was released on New Year’s Day, a national holiday, ticket sales fell short of 10,500. In contrast, Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which was released on Christmas Day in France, sold more than one million tickets there in its first week.
But it’s pointless to compare an American movie, even even a relatively “wild” one like Scorsese’s latest, with its copious depictions of sex and drug use, to the explicitly pornographic film of the Danish director who specializes in scandal both on- and off-screen. Despite its poor box office, French and British critics have praised the film. Many critics have remarked on the gap between the provocative reputation of “Nymphomaniac,” with its difficult scenes of sadomasochistic sex, and the fact that it is also a delicate, moving work of art.
One Israeli film distributor told me that in general, the same distributor picks up all of any specific director’s films, noting that in recent years Shani Films’ Lev theater chain, run by Shani Films, has distributed von Trier’s works in Israel. The company has refused to release concrete details about “Nymphomanic.”
“At present, the film is not on the list of upcoming releases,” the company said in a response, adding that “the process of purchasing film rights is an internal matter we prefer not to discuss in public.”
According to the distributor I spoke with, the reasons for not releasing the film in Israel at this time could be purely financial. “The film came out abroad a few months ago, and was a box office failure. If someone buys it now, it will be for release on video on demand, and I don’t see that happening, because it’s very expensive. The fates decided that this film would not succeed at the box office, and everyone knows it won’t make much money here. Currently, most of the films that come out in Israel come out at the same time as they do in Europe and America. Everyone wants to be as current as possible, and prevent downloading. Movies no longer come out in Israel months after the rest of the world,” said the source.
He added that films are usually picked up for distribution in an earlier phase, sometimes even before filming begins. “Generally these kinds of dilemmas don’t even come up, unless the film is offered at an outrageous price, and then you have to decide if it’s worth buying the rights and launching an ad campaign, and if there’s a big market for the film. Perhaps Lev felt the film is extreme, even when compared with von Trier’s other works, and they decided that it’s not worth the investment.”
Nachshon Films distributed in Israel earlier von Trier films, including “The Idiots,” “Breaking the Waves” and “Dancer in the Dark,” which were big hits here. The firm’s marketing director, Ronit Gilad Harman, says they considered bringing “Nymphomaniac” to Israel but could not because TrustNordisk, the Danish distributer, had been in contact with a different Israeli distributor. “If there are any changes, we’ll consider it again,” Gilad Harman said.
She says that despite the shockwaves created by “Nymphomaniac” she has not yet seen it, and wouldn’t consider purchasing the distribution rights before doing so. “It’s a complex film, despite the buzz it has created, and not every buzzworthy film is appropriate for commercial distribution,” Gilad Harman said. She noted that von Trier’s “Antichrist,” also starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, is among the films of the director that was not distributed commercially in Israel. It was distributed locally on DVD only, by The Third Ear.
Another local distributor said that when he approached TrustNordisk about distributing “Nymphomaniac” in Israel, he was told that Shani Films had already purchased the Israeli distribution rights.
“Perhaps they saw the film and they changed their minds,” said the distributor, who asked not to be identified in this report. “Up until now, I could have sworn they had the rights. It could be that they’re still unsure if they should distribute it or not. I understand that it’s a tough film. But those are their concerns, and they definitely know what they’re doing. I think that there’s a lot of interest in this film, but sometimes the company that’s selling it asks for an disproportionate amount of money, when considering box office potential. If there’s no financial incentive, it makes sense why the deal gets stalled. It could be that the price was outrageous, compared with the movie’s potential.”
In a response, TrustNordisk said, “We’re currently working on a deal, but there is still no Israeli distributor attached to the film.”