Tuesday, February 18, 2014

First reaction: Nymph()maniac

“You know, if you put all the foreskin that has ever been cut off together, it would reach to Mars and back!” Yes, subtlety was never Lars von Trier’s strong point and Nymphomaniac is his maddest and most ambitious movie yet. After realising that his five and a half hour cut was unreleasable, he agreed to let it be cut down to a “sensible” four hour running time to be released in two parts.
Watching the two volumes of Nymphomaniac back to back is an incredible experience. The fact that this film got made is extraordinary. Lars von Trier is clearly completely mental, and unashamed to put his craziness on the screen. If ever a film deserved an 18 rating, it’s this one. While very explicit in its depiction of sex and violence of all kinds, calling Nymphomaniac porn would be reactionary and ridiculous.
The film is about the life of Joe (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and, in a younger version, newcomer Stacy Martin), a sex-addict, to put it mildly. The story is held together by a framing device, in which Joe tells the various chapters of her, mostly sexual, life, to Stellan Skarsgard’s Seligman.
There is an awful lot to criticize about Nymphomaniac, and not all of them are related to Shia LaBoeuf’s hilariously bad British accent (think Dick van Dyke meets Danny Dyer). The film is pretentious beyond belief, drawing comparisons between sex and classical music, the Fibonacci numbers and of all things, fishing. Von Trier also clearly goes for shock value over substance, as he tends to do, on several occasions. The film’s depiction of gender is questionable to say the least (I have not had enough time to think about it, butBreaking the Waves  is one of the most misogynist films I have ever seen).
Yet, I couldn’t help but admire von Trier’s ability to get under my skin. While enjoying is the wrong word, I was transfixed for the entire four hours, never bored. The pace is slow, but it has a certain hypnotic energy to it. It is also fairly funny, in the most twisted way, especially through the interaction between Skaarsgard and Gainsbourg. The only real disappointment is the ending, which is rather anti-climactic and predictable, which is a shame.
I don’t know any people, except for proper cinephiles, I would recommendNymphomanic to(and I know plenty of people I wouldn’t recommend it to), but it is an experience worth having, which you won’t forget any time soon.


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