Sunday, 23 February 2014

Film Review: Nymphomaniac Volumes I and II (2013)



Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf and Jamie Bell

“Leave your hair up. It might be necessary if I decide to punch you in the face.” – K (Jaime Bell) to Joe (Charlotte Gainsborgh) in Nymphomaniac: Volume II

Controversy, rightly or wrongly, is attached to a Lars von Trier picture like hype is attached to the news of a comic book adaptation, often blown out of proportion because of the need for something to write about. With the marketing for his latest work, the two parts of Nymphomaniac, teasing us with posters of the cast making an ‘o-face’ and a cheeky () between the h and m in the title, along with promises of scenes featuring real sex and various director’s cuts for cinema releases, the stage was set for Lars von Trier to make his most divisive film to date.

Curiously enough Nymphomaniac struck me as one of the director’s most disengaging and emotionally empty films despite the combined four hour running time of both volumes. A lot can be said of the director’s thoughts on the worth of human life, his depiction of females and heroines who inevitably march down a path of self-destruction and his commentary on sexuality as “the strongest force in human beings” but above all of this, the film feels visually stunted which leads the four hours to become tiresome before the first volume is through.

Like all of his films, the construction of the art is clear from the beginning as Rammstein’s industrial metal (or so I’m told) ‘Führe Mich’ belts out over a sequence where a man, Seligman, (Stellan Skarsgård) finds a woman, Joe, (Charlotte Gainsbourg) beaten and bloodied in a dark alleyway which is clearly filmed on a set, as is the bedroom where he helps her recuperate. Once at his house, the film begins its bildungsroman narrative as Joe tells Seligman her story of nymphomania and why she’s a ‘bad human being’ for how she’s led her life. In a rather contrived way the two characters couldn’t be further apart in terms of sexual experiences with Seligman the voice of purity and forgiveness, acting as a confessional output for Joe; but by telling the story in this narrative structure the film lacks that relentless race to despair which made previous films like Dancer In The Dark, Dogville, Europa, The Elements of Crime, and Melancholia (to name but a few) so undeniably watchable and engaging. This is the only film (which I’ve seen) of his to be told in flashback and from a single viewpoint a perspective and I don’t feel the narrative style is where his talents for storytelling lie.

Moreover, the style of handheld camera, multiple and frequent edits and camera angle changes which audiences have become accustomed to for the past 15 years, and which lends his films a curiously unsettling and unpredictable aura is mostly gone, in favour for on-screen diagrams, stock footage, and illustrations from angling books. Oh, and a montage of flaccid penis from all types of men. Obviously. Ultimately, and keeping in the theme of the movies, Nymphomaniac did not stimulate my cinematic erogenous zones.

Where the film will surprise audiences is in just how frequently funny it is. Von Trier clearly has a wicked sense of humour and this is his most amusing film after Direktøren for det hele (aka The Boss Of It All) whether that be Joe stashing spoons inside herself in a crowded restaurant, Seligman’s equivalating sex to fly fishing, or the ‘silent duck’ which I won’t go into detail here. If anything, however, the tone between humour and dark sexuality leads the film to become all too frequently unbalanced. I don’t expect von Trier to rely on so many cuts to Skarsgård’s sheltered character to relieve the audience from the lurid acts (especially in Volume II) over and over again. The only time the film is truly unsettling is when Joe visits, on several occasions, a man who physically hurts women in some of the most bizarre scenes you’ll see in mainstream cinema. I loved these sequences because I had no idea what would happen next; classic von Trier.

Another positive is how sex is portrayed in the film; it is never sexy or glossy and there’s nothing tender or romantic about the film whatsoever. The need to have sex soon becomes a chore to organize as Joe systematically fits in up to ten partners every day, with each one making up the different needs she has which she justifies as attributing to one lover. As Volume II begins and Joe’s nymphomania has completely taken over her life and ruined her sensual pleasures, she gets a job which enables her to use her sexual experiences to break men down, as part of a shady loan repayment organization; in this scene we see one of several real sex scenes, but this is the only one where the sight of an erect penis on a 25 foot screen could be justified to progress the story. As for the rest, it is needless and pointless and we know these are body doubles.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: This brings an end to von Trier’s ‘depression’ trilogy which started with Antichrist (the only film of his I would rate under a 7 on a 1-to-10 scale) and has the excellent Melancholia sandwiched in the middle. It is far from his best work and features a final scene which was frustratingly nonsensical, but it remains watchable throughout and is bound to lead to philosophical debates on gender, sex, and sexuality long after the film has finished. I, however, was looking for more from a film experience from a director I’ve come to admire so much, but one thing is for sure; von Trier continues to show why his films demand to be seen by anyone who values a film maker with unique cinematic eye.

15 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. Pssst…

    pssst…

    sshhhhh…non giratevi....

    fate finta di niente....

    sono l‘agente moollllto segreto Ostin Pauers, quello di cui si parla nei commenti di questo blog…(parlando bene l'inglse sto ovviamente usando uno pseudonimo).

    Volevo innanzitutto ringraziare tutta la rete dei bloggeroni (che sono gli agenti moolllto segreti e tutti massoni 2.0) che cancellano quei commenti che rischiano di far saltare la mia copertura di agente moollllto segreto impegnato in missioni segretisssime.

    Purtroppo non posso rivelare nulla da qui ma chi volesse essere reclutato nella rete dei bloggeroni o volesse informazioni sulla mia occultisssima attività mi contatti pure.

    Vi rivelerò importanti informazioni e vi spiegherò anche come vive un pericolosissimo e segretissimo soggetto come il sottoscritto.

    A presto.

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  8. ringrazio il bloggerone 009 ;)

    e scuserete anche lo stile di questi commenti.
    E' come il coraggio di Don Abbondio.

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  10. Occhio a ...
    il controspionaggio sa che faccio parte di società complottarde
    come i Nights Club...ehm...no.. volevo dire...Lions Club.
    Poi pensa che faccio parte anche di aziende edili dove ci sono muratori...ehm...volevo dire..massoni.
    Va beh ragazzi in ogni caso occhi aperti e pronti a tutto.

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  11. TU COMPLOTTAVI PER IL CRIMINALE NAZIMAFIOSO ASSASSINO PAOLO BARRAI. E, AMMETTO, DIMOSTRASTI ANCHE UNA CERTA ONESTA', NEL FARLO CAPIRE. AGGIUNGENDO, IN UN CASO, AL TELEFONO: " NON ASPETTARTI CHE LO AMMETTERO' MAI, IN OGNI CASO". PRENDESTI PER IL CULO, VIA BLOG MICROBORSA (MICRO E' IL CANE IN BORSA AZZERARISPARMI PAOLO BARRAI, L'ALTRA PERSONA E' UN GENIO ED HA CONQUISTATO COME CLIENTI LE PIU' GROSSE BANCHE D'AFFARI AL MONDO INTERO.. ALTRO CHE MICRO). DAL PRIMO POST. COME BEN SAI. DETTO QUESTO, GIOCARE A NASCONDINO NON GIOVERA' A NESSUNO. INIZIARE A STRACCIARE LE LERCIE VESTI DELLA IPOCRISIA E FALSITA', GIOVERA', PER PRIMO, A TE ( COME NOTI USO FRASI MOLTO EBRAICHE " STRACCIARE VESTI")! MI VIENE SEMPLICEMENTE MOLTO SPONTANEO E NATURALE.

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