Ed's Note: This review will deal with adult themes.
Nymphomaniac: Volumes I & II
Director: Lars von Trier
With: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Christian Slater, Connie Nielsen, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe, Uma Thurman
Part I: 118mins. Part II: 123mins. Both 18.
Firstly, it has taken me a little while to write up the review for this film. I have been affected by it in some peculiar fashion. My friends on Facebook are keen to know my response and critique. I bided my time, telling them to hang fire.
I’m well aware that this film is cause of great controversy recently, with its graphic sexual content, provocative marketing, even the use of brackets in the title to suggest a lady's privates. Young people or not, we are all adults here and I do hope that my review can go on theSprout. I shall deal with the film like any other I have reviewed and in the most mature manner. OK? OKâ€¦
Lars von Trier is never far from scandal. Whether it’s his "I understand Hitler" and "I am a Nazi" jokes at the Cannes Film Festival (he has now been banned from going for this), the genital mutilation seen in Antichrist (the biggest gasp I have ever given in a cinema) or perhaps most shocking of all, his musical, Dancer In The Dark, featuring BjÃ¶rk (the courtroom song is sheer brilliance). Even through all the morbid, visceral and shock delights, I still return to his films. Melancholia is next on my list. I would gladly put him up there with my other favourite directors: David Lynch, Werner Herzog and Dario Argento. To deny this would be criminal.
Ending Trier’s "Trilogy of Depression", (the other two films being Antichrist and Melancholia), Nymphomaniac is in two parts, lasting four hours. It’s heavy going. Watching it all filled me with a mixed emotional sea of indifference, disgust, amusement, anxiety, shock, anger and occasional arousal. I can’t say I have felt all that in one single film before. How strange it is to leave the cinema feeling totally numb, dumbfounded by what you have just witnessed and yet still having much praise for it, along with some negative views.
Our protagonist (if she can even be called that) is Joe. Played by four different actress, the focus was on Stacy Martin as Joe as a teenager and Charlotte Gainsbourg as the character in her current form. As Gainsbourg, she is found beaten and dishevelled in an alleyway by Seligman, played by Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd. She is taken back to his flat and there she retells her life in sex, love and other matters (the end of the film completely turns all this on its head). The simplistic and beautiful dialogue between these two characters is almost worthy of the best playwrights of today. They are polar opposites: him a nerdy, flippant virgin and her a mysterious, remorseful lady, with nothing to lose. Trier’s script is a total masterclass in storytelling, even with its explicit nature.
I can certainly send my regards to this spellbinding cast. Be it Martin with her kittenish, blossoming chances, Gainsbourg (who was terrifyingly disturbed in Antichrist) immersive and near expressionless for chunks of the film. SkarsgÃ¥rd was the very convincing bookworm, whose passion for throwing in not-so-relevant references to Joe accounts of her experiences were amusing and totally relatable. Fly fishing, Fibonacci number, Doctor Faustus and much more all slipped into the conversation from books, his only relatable allay.
Shia LaBeouf’s JerÃ´me was supposed to be doing a Cockney accent but it came through more like Australian or South American. Even with his recent media frenzy over paper bags on his head (written on it "I am not famous anymore"), quoting Eric Cantona and walking out of press conferences, it still holds up as a memorable performance. His role is very important in Joe’s life, losing her virginity to him, later working for him and having a baby together. He is the glue that holds her life just about together.
My favourite performance goes to the scene-stealing Uma Thurman as Mrs H. Her heart-destroying plot is to make her husband Mr H (Hugo Speer) feel terrible for his actions of moving in with Joe. In her one day of filming this scene, you can tell she really enjoyed herself and we as an audience can feel this. My favourite quote from this film is her line asking Joe, "Would it be alright, if I show the children the whoring bed?" A truly alarming, yet hilarious thing to ask as a mother. I can’t put the trailer up for the film, so this scene shall do.
The children as well are filmed in such a way to make them look so achingly sad, knowing they won’t see their dad again. I shed a few tears, but snapped back into thing when Mrs H screams a primal scream and slaps her husband (she looks so much like my sister, so it’s all the more strange). Uma did a marvellous job on this cameo and would have done a better job than Nicole Kidman who was originally cast as in the role.
Christian Slater is Joe’s observant yet dying father (more sad scenes). Jamie Bell, who is most famous for playing Billy Elliot, is in his most shocking role here. I don’t want to say he was miscast here, but since that film, he has been in movies but he always seems to have gone under the radar. Now he is very much apparent as K, Joe’s cold, brutal master to her servant. He very much batters her with whips and this makes for very uncomfortable viewing. Her Christmas present from him being a cat o' nine tails whip, which lacerates her dress and behind. It astounds me people find this sort of thing appealing.
The choice of music is also noteworthy. The German death metal group Rammstein have a song open the film, but it remains out of place. The rest of the film is an eclectic mix of classical music, very much to my liking. Shostakovich, Saint-Saens, Wagner and more. The most memorable is undoubtedly Bach with his Ich Ruf' Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ, taken from his Little Organ Book. For chapter five (my person favourite chapter), this music is spoken of by Seligman. Its harmony and polyphony is compared to three of Joe’s lovers to stimulating effect, with three spilt screens, stock footage of big cats and even a nod to Eadweard Muybridge. Trier is also a great big troll as well, making his fans think Joe’s baby is going to die, when playing the very same Handel aria he used in Antichrist, when the child does die in that film.
Even with all the vulgarity, this still holds up as a remarkable film. It is not Trier’s best, but certainly up there. The imagery used, the use of black and white (for one chapter), the literary quirks (chapters, the story telling) all weave into a story of a woman for whom we may not really care, but sure do go along with the journey. Sex addiction is still a big problem today, should be taken seriously and dealt with like any other addiction.
Shown nationally around seventy-two cinemas on the same night, I still couldn’t look anyone in the eye in the cinema.
Hypnotic, gusty and mystifying.
Rating: 9/10 (Most difficult rating I have ever given)