Cert: 18 Runtime: 118 mins Director: Lars von Trier Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LeBeouf, Chirstian Slater and Uma Thurman
Perhaps the only difference between me and other people is that I’ve always demanded more from the sunset. More spectacular colours when the sun hit the horizon. That’s perhaps my only sin
Lars von Trier is an artist who needs no introduction! But for my readers that have never seen one of his films I would recommend Dogville, Melancholia and Antichrist. While on a trip to France I offered to take my better half to watch Nymphomaniac she was very reluctant on viewing it, basically saying I am not going to watch porn for 4 hours! There was no point arguing we were on vacation after all. For me von Trier is a great exhibitionist, the mystery of such a star studded cast in a very risqué film intrigued me enough. So what is Nymphomaniac: Vol.I? Chronicling the sexual adventures of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg).Having befriended her following a brutal beating, the ageing but strangely inexperienced Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) becomes the audience for her tale of erotic conquests, beginning with a feckless teenager (Shia LaBeouf).Graphically revealed in flashback, and commented on if not explained by the fascinated Seligman, the young and now insatiable Joe (Stacy Martin) seeks to satisfy her “filthy, dirty lust”. But despite the many graphic sex scenes, the film is defiantly untitillating; instead it’s a visually and intellectually dazzling meditation on love, art, religion and desire.
To be honest, I had my doubts when I went to see this film. After all the buzz, I more or less expected a provocative, pretentious, incomprehensible film. I thought ‘Nyphomaniac’ would be a shallow artistic excuse to show lots of explicit sex in an attempt to shock the audience and create controversy. Well, I was wrong. Is it provocative? In some ways, yes. I think choosing nymphomania as a subject for a film is already some sort of provocation. And there are some scenes that might be considered tasteless or mildly shocking. But if I would have to describe the film in one word, I wouldn’t use ‘provocative’. Instead, I would use ‘imaginative’. Because that is what this film is: imaginative. It’s so full of ideas, full of creativity and full of cinematographic exuberance that it’s hard not be impressed. The nice thing is that Lars Von Trier never takes himself too seriously. In a way, it’s a pity that the film is about sex. So much attention is being given to the number of penises shown (many, in a very funny way) and the number of vagina close-ups (none, in fact, at least in part 1) that it overshadows everything else, including the creative way the film is made.
‘Nyphomaniac’ is a classic frame story. A sex-obsessed woman named Joe tells her life to a man called Seligman who found her bleeding in a back alley. Seligman in turn tells her about things in his own life, like fly fishing, Fibonacci numbers or organ music. Their conversation is the backbone of the film – the side stories about Joe’s sex adventures and Seligman’s hobbies are divided into chapters. Von Trier uses lots of different film styles: he throws in animations, split screens, cross cutting, black & white, and at one point even a fast succession of snapshots. This makes for a very quirky film, that keeps on surprising. One wonderful example of this creative approach is the final chapter, where Joe sees a similarity between her complicated love life and Seligman’s favourite piece of polyphonic organ music. She compares her lovers to the three different melodic tunes in the music. The way Von Triers visualizes this, with the screen split in three to show cross cuttings of the organ and the lovers, is original and funny at the same time. So, in spite of all the indications to the contrary, this film is about as far removed from porn as Woody Allen is from Mickey Mouse. ‘Nymphomaniac’ deserves to be remembered for more than just sex.