It’s hard to talk about Charlotte Gainsbourg without talking about her lineage, and with parents as provocative as Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, how could you not? Gainsbourg seems to have inherited a bit of both figures’ impressionable allure — her work, especially her roles in now three of Lars von Triers’ controversial pictures, her style (Gainsbourg was Nicolas Ghesquiere’s muse at Balenciaga for years), and her angular, near-androgynous beauty have attracted cultish devotion.
In November of 2011, when I sat down with the cast of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, I spoke with Charlotte Gainsbourg about her next grueling cinematic endeavor, to which he told me that she’d be starring in Lars’ next film about a nymphomaniac. Naturally, Alexander Skarsgård excitedly responded, “My dad’s going to be in that too!”
Never one for following cinematic convention, Lars von Trier’s highly-anticipated Nymphomaniac has been garnering attention for the past year, even before releasing his installment of chapter previews. The Charlotte Gainsbourg-led erotic odyssey—which he originally suggested to Peter Aalbaek be titled Shit in the Bedsore—has been a grand undertaking for von Trier, who shot over 100 hours of material for the picture, and since has been cutting it down to a proper theatrical length. But “proper” isn’t exactly a term the notorious director is accustom to.
After seeing three teasers, one could already guess, but each chapter “has its own stylistic approach, dictated by content and tone,” including a mix of formal and experimental techniques, with one section being in black-and-white and another in 1.85:1 ratio (the rest is in Cinemascope). While it’s been reported that the film contains no slow motion — unlike his last two features — there is a chapter shot with a static camera, “resting on faces and bodies, as rigid as a surveillance camera, but much closer to the objects.”
Filmmakers create their work to be played large and loud, not to be watched on your laptop—the visceral difference between watching Lars von Trier’s doomsday ballet Melancholia in a theater, the floor and walls shaking from the enormous the sound of the picture, compared to the comfort of viewing it modestly in your living room. But with the landscape of Hollywood today and the state of distribution, more and more films are finding themselves available in your homes rather than your local cinemas. And although some of that initial spark may be lost, watching a film on VOD is certainly better than not watching a film at all.
The limited theatrical/VOD model allows a film to garner an audience where there typically would be none, expanding the entire scope of independent film altogether. And off the $3 million success of their release of Melancholia, Magnolia Pictures is saddling up with a $2 million bid for Lars’ psycho-erotic drama Nymphomanic. The film is set to premiere at Cannes this spring and even without a trailer or pre-screenings, the hype around the film has been enough to know that Magnolia shouldn’t be worried about bringing in an audience. We’ve seen stills from the picture and know the general gist of what the Charlotte Gainsbourg-led movie will portray, but it’s Lars so who really knows? With the subject matter and Lars’ notorious fondness for extremes, who knows what sort of rating this will even receive and who would otherwise get the chance to see it. Releasing the film on VOD will definitely make for an exciting and more expansive conversation on the film as it scatters into homes across America.
And with the model in effect for the past few years, filmmakers have been embracing this route—especially those like Ti West who told me back in Septmeber that:
It’s the sad nature of independent film and the age where we’re at theatrically. I’m here in Savannah, and there’s not an independent movie theater here that’s showing V/H/S. If I wanted to see The House of the Devil, tough shit; I’d have to drive five hours to Atlanta. My other option is to pay ten bucks and watch it, hopefully, on my 50-inch plasma TV with my $200 Best Buy sound system. It’s become conceivable that for not too much money, you can have a decent home watching experience. The hardest thing about accepting VOD as a filmmaker is that you spend a year of your life meticulously crafting these technical aspects of a movie to be seen on a big screen, in the dark, with loud sounds. So when someone’s like, “Oh, I’m watched it on my phone…” The ulcers that I got over the last year trying to do this right and spending all the time and money to do, and then you watch it on your phone? It’s just really defeating. But paying to watch it on VOD supports the movie and supports the company releasing the movie, which makes it seem like it’s important. If the movies seems like a good investment, then more movies like that will get made, which is great for me. But if you live somewhere with an indie scene, then yeah, you should probably go see it in the theater because that’s how it was meant to be seen. That opportunity is getting smaller and smaller by the minute so you should embrace that.
Without a wealth of knowledge on the project—save a brief synopsis and some photos of the cast looking appropriately somber—the follow up to Lars von Trier’s end of the world ballet Melancholia, the psycho-erotic drama Nymphomaniac, has topped my list of anticipated films for the next year. And today we’re given a first look, albiet slight. The still from the film features von Trier muse Charlotte Gainsbourg lying helpless, injured after being attacked in a snowy back alley. Nymphomaniac focuses on her character and unfolds in eight chapters, as Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Stacy Martin, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Connie Nielsen, Udo Kier and Jean-Marc Barr rotate in and out of the picture.
In an interview for Melancholia, Lars spoke about working on his next project and the influence of beginning to read again:
It’s an interesting point why the hell films have to be so stupid! Why do all lines have to be about something? A plot. when books have a red thread, they only brush it momentarily….Whereas a film is completely tied to the plot. Even a Tarkovsky film has nowhere near the same depth as a novel. It could be fun to take some of the novel’s qualities—even that they talk nineteen to the dozen, which is what I like in Dostoyevsky—and include that.
It’s interesting to think how this would factor into his own writing, translating his next film into something even more powerful. Moving onto talking directly about Nymphomaniac or his second title option, Shit in the Bedsore, he went onto say that, "But it’s no fun if they’re just humping away all the time…then it’ll just be a porn flick."
To go a little more in depth, Nymphomaniac is a "wild and poetic story of a woman’s erotic journey from birth to age 50 as told my the main character." Gainsbourg plays Joe, the self-diagnosed nymphomaniac whon, on a cold winter’s evening, meets the old, charming bachelor Seligman (played by Skarsgard). After finding Joe in an alley, Seligman brings her home where he "cares for her wounds while asking her about her life." As he listens, the eight chapters unfold as she recounts the "lushly branched-out and multi-faceted story of her life, rich in associations, and interjecting incidents.
The alluring chanteuse (that’s French for "ladysinger", you guys!) has been particularly active recently promoting her new album Stage Whispers, which combines both live and unreleased material and comes out on this side of the pond on December 13th. There’s currently a handful of new tracks floating around the web, which we’ve oh-so-kindly collected right here for you.
First, there’s the fun bedroom-disco Beck collaboration "Paradisco" over on Pitchfork; the whole affair is suprisingly catchy and sounds not unlike Donna Summer’s "I Feel Love" on Ambien.
Next, there’s the more subdued "White Telephone" – available over on Stereogum. Released to the web back in August but appearing on Stage Whisper, it’s absolutely a slow burner, reminiscent of Beck’s Golden Age era songs (which themselves owe a large sonic debt to Charlotte’s legendary father, Serge Gainsbourg).
If you’re still after more Charlotte, head on over to this Air France Facebook page and click ‘Like’. You’ll be greeted with the charming "Out Of Touch" – and a live version of "Set Yourself On Fire", which quite frankly is one of her most adventurous offerings to date.
Unfortunately, Melancholia is known as “The Lars von Trier Nazi comments film,” after the misguided remarks the director made at last summer’s Cannes film festival. It’s unfortunate, too, because it’s his best film in years. Billed as a “Beautiful movie about the end of the world,” Melancholia is exhausting and intimate, a psychological drama under the guise of a disaster flick. Kirsten Dunst, who won best actress at Cannes for her performance, plays Justine, who is estranged from her sister Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Alexander Skarsgard, making a departure from the dangerous men he’s embodied as of late, plays Michael, who’s set to marry Justine. All the while, a rogue planet is on a collision course with Earth. The film finally opens in New York this weekend. We recently caught up with Dunst, Gainsbourg, and Skarsgard, who traveled deep into the land of von Trier and lived to tell about it.
How did you get involved with the film?
Kirsten Dunst: For me, I just got an email that was like, read this script. Lars wants to talk to you tomorrow and he’s really interested in your for this movie. I know that two directors had recommended me because it was supposed to be Penelope Cruz in the film at first. So two friends of his mentioned me for the role, and we barely even talked about the script. We just talked about The Night Porter and Charlotte Rampling. It was really simple for me.
Did you have any reservations about working with Lars?
KD: I didn’t. I knew that whatever journey I was going on it would be an interesting one and I’m always up for a challenge.
A lot changes from the page to the screen took place. Did you have any idea how massive the film would actually be?
KD: I know it’s a Lars film. I didn’t think, stylistically, how it would look until we were getting to these homes.
Charlotte Gainsbourg: Visually, I didn’t even see it as being America or that castle. It was his atmosphere.
How does working with Lars differ from working with other filmmakers?
Alex Skarsgard: It’s very unconventional and it was such an interesting vibe and atmosphere. We all kind of lived together in the middle of nowhere in southern Sweden. Usually, when you work, it’s like you block a scene and then you have tape marks and then you have a master. Then you show up and the director’s like, “Alright! Let’s see what happens.” But Lars doesn’t care about continuity and he wants to be surprised. He wants to be like, “Oh, that was interesting, I didn’t expect that to happen.” You do whatever you want and then he’ll come in and he knows. You feel like he’s editing it in his head as he’s watching it, and then if there’s something he needs, he’ll come in and whisper something. It was really one of the most amazing experiences of my career.
Did you rehearse before you shot the film?
AS: He shoots it as we rehearse, and it’s usually a disaster. There were these big scenes with cars coming and going, and he’s like, “Alright, let’s shoot!” and we’re like, “What’s my cue? When do I drive?” But I get it, because there are these moments that will happen. Most of it will be a disaster, but then something will happen in that rehearsal, some little moment or something awkward or something that’s real, and you won’t be able to recreate that. He’ll be there with a camera and he’ll capture that, and then you’ll do it again and fix what didn’t work, but then you’ll have these little moments you can put in.
CG: He tries to push you a bit off of your grounds and it’s very helpful. Now I find it’s very difficult to work in a different way because you feel so free. Now when someone says, “Okay, we’re going to rehearse,” and you’re feeling that you’re missing stuff, it’s very difficult.
With a film so heavy, did you have to keep the atmosphere light on set in order to not fully sink into your own depression?
AS: That’s the thing, we partied weekends and had fun because you need that. You can’t spend two months in that darkness.
KD: Everyone was always cooking or we’d meet for a meal.
Charlotte, how was the experience on Melancholia different than Antichrist?
CG: Antichrist felt so intimate, with a tiny crew who went to extremes. And with this character everything was more subtle and more difficult for me to understand, and to know where I was going because it was less extreme. And the crew felt different, the whole thing was nearly the opposite which was nice. I was nervous before I started this film because I enjoyed myself so much on the first, that I was worried it wouldn’t be as good. I enjoyed Antichrist very much in a troubled way. That’s why we do this job, not to go in easy places.
Was Lars a different director or person while working on this film opposed to Antichrist?
CG: Very different. I think he was not well when we shot Antichrist and came up saying he didn’t know if he’d be able to finish the film. And so we suffered looking at him and not being able to cope with everything. For this, he was good and was saying how happy he felt. So that was nice to see him recover.
It seems like even though Lars has some of the most challenging roles for women, people seem to misconstrue them as misogynistic, which is crazy, no?
KD: He’s one of the only people writing roles and women are the leads.
CG: But there is a cruelty and a darkness and that’s what makes a character.
How did you feel when you saw the completed film for the first time?
AS: It’s always weird when you watch yourself, especially the first time, because you’re always critical. I wasn’t able to go to Cannes, so I went back to Sweden in May, and it was in theaters then, or in June, and I thought it was amazing.
KD: The sound was crazy at the end. I laughed at Cannes. I turned to my friend and was like, “What is going on?” Not because I thought it was funny, but because it was so intense. I thought it was amazing. I thought the end was so cool when I saw it done for the first time. I haven’t seen an ending in a theater like that, and it is so unexpected because it’s so intimate.
Did Lars give you any advice when going into the film?
CG: He asked us to watch Persona.
KD: And he told me to watch Philadelphia Story. I think because it takes place at a wedding and it’s charming and funny, and he didn’t want to lose that essence even though it was a film about depression.
How would you react to the end of the world?
KD: I’d be sad if I never had kids and it was the end of the world. If it was the end of the world tomorrow, I’d probably just be with my friends or something.
AS: I’d go hang out with my family.
CG: I just want it to be quick and not know about it.
● Miley Cyrus’ “people” traded at least two Mac Book Pros with college students in exchange for their computers, which each contained a copy of Miley’s bong-smoking salvia video. This plan failed. [TMZ] ● Disney’s neo-golden couple, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, have split. Each actor is now required by contract to either come out or date Taylor Swift. [E! Online] ● Eminem has plans for a new movie, in which he will be angry. [Deadline]
● Pete Doherty will star opposite Charlotte Gainsbourg in a new biopic of Alfred de Musset, the 19th century French poet. With his usual ambivalence, Doherty said, “I don’t know if I’m a good actor, but they say I am.” [HuffPo] ● Dexter stars Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, a married couple who play siblings on TV, are getting a divorce. It’s hard to say what’s most awkward here. [EW] ● A photo of Chelsea Handler and 50 Cent in bed together is just gross. [HuffPo]
Always game for a creative twist, Shipley & Halmos designers Sam Shipley and Jeff Halmos have launched “Things!”—a collection of novelty items and accessories available in their label’s new and improved online store. I’m loving the Signature Wallet that comes with a notepad to write “notes, love letters, sketches, or whatever else the gold pen inspires you to create,” as the website states. The Visual Dictionary is pretty genius too, and a perfect gift for that one friend who’s into the most random things.
There’s also a limited-edition Personality List Poster, which lists the designers’ muses such as Charlotte Gainsbourg and Peter Sellers in alphabetical order. Why? Because it’s new, it’s cool, it’s different, and that’s their thing.