A private theater in Yerevan has come under fire from Armenian film critics and cinemagoers after cancelling the premiere of prominent Danish director Lars Von Trier’s latest movie known for its very erotic content.
Replete with explicit sex scenes, Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” was billed as one of the hotly anticipated movies of 2013. It premiered in Demark in December and has been shown across Europe since then.
Yerevan’s Cinema Star theater was due to start screening the film on Thursday. However, it announced on Wednesday that the show has been cancelled due to “numerous complaints by some citizens and social groups.” It did not name any of them.
No Armenian group has publicly campaigned against “Nymphomaniac” in recent days or weeks. Nor have any government officials or religious leaders spoken out against it.
Responding to a flurry of critical comments posted on its Facebook page after the announcement, Cinema Star cited the “family-oriented” character of its operations and said it wanted to avoid “conflicting opinions” about the film. The private operator refused to comment further.
Yerevan’s two other major cinemas made clear on Thursday that they have no intention to purchase screening rights for “Nymphomaniac.”
Liberal film critics condemned the development as a manifestation of cultural censorship. “This may set a bad precedent in a country where censorship is officially illegal,” Zaven Boyajian, a veteran expert, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Diana Martirosian, a younger critic, was even more scathing, saying that she and her friends will protest against the cancellation by watching the Danish filmmaker’s early works in a private club on Thursday night. “People knowing who Lars Von Trier is expect good cinematography, and not nude scenes,” said Martirosian.
But Arax Poghosian, a talk-show host at the Radio Vem station close to the Armenian Apostolic Church, defended the de facto ban, saying that “Nymphomaniac” is an “almost pornographic film.” “Even if they call it censorship, I consider that useful censorship,” Poghosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Poghosian suggested that the Armenian government was behind the ban. “I’m not so naïve as to think that if a movie is banned then people won’t find a way of watching it,” she said. “But it’s up to each individual to decide. The state is demonstrating its position and I consider that normal.”
Boyajian brushed aside the pornography claims, saying that they are made by those who have not seen “Nymphomaniac.” The Yerevan theater should have only barred minors from its screenings, he said. The critic was also confident that not many people would have rushed to watch the movie given Von Trier’s reputation as “elite director.”
That reputation was tarnished when the 57-year-old filmmaker was expelled from the 2011 Cannes festival for joking that he sympathizes with Adolf Hitler. It was the first such expulsion from the world's top film festival in 64 years.