Directed by: Lars von Trier
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf
After the wild buzz and months of chatter surrounding Nymphomaniac, I more or less expected a provocative, pretentious, incomprehensible porno film. I thought it would be a shallow artistic excuse to show lots of explicit sex in an attempt to shock the audience and create controversy. I was wrong.
Is it provocative? In many ways, yes, and there are plenty of scenes that might be considered tasteless or mindlessly shocking. But if had to describe the film in one word, I wouldn’t use ‘provocative’. Instead, I would use ‘imaginative’.
Typical to Lars Non Trier’s style, Nymphomaniac is so full of creativity and cinematographic exuberance that it’s hard not be impressed. The nice thing is that Von Trier never takes himself too seriously and, in a way, it’s a pity that the film is primary about sex. So much attention is given to the genital close-ups that it overshadows everything else, including the creative way in which the film is made.
Lars Von Trier has crafted an impressive story filled with beauty, humour and heartbreak – but it’s his writing that’s most notable. The dialogue is simple yet beautiful, and the story remains clever throughout. It’s told in chapters and has an epic feel to it – like we’re being told a fairy tale, albeit an X-rated fairy tale. Von Trier has a solid creative vision and it never falters. A wonderful example of his creative approach comes in the final chapter, where Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) sees a similarity between her complicated love life and Seligman’s (Stellan Skarsgård) favourite piece of polyphonic organ music. She compares her lovers to the three different melodic tunes in the music. The way Von Trier visualizes this, with the screen split into three to show cross cuttings of the organ and the lovers, is original and funny at the same time.
Von Trier’s vision is aided by some superb performances. Charlotte Gainsborough, newcomer Stacy Martin and Stellan Skarsgård will receive most of the plaudits – but there are some fantastic performances hidden beneath the surface. Despite featuring briefly, Uma Thurman brings the film its most powerful moments, whilst Jamie Bell plays a fantastic sadist. (Who would have thought?! Billy bloody Elliot!)
The film is split into two parts, with each part carrying a different style and tone. The first has a lighter feel and plays out as a tongue-in-cheek caper, while the second is darker and grittier. Both work well despite the change in tone and dynamic. However, the transformation from young Joe to older Joe feels very weird. It comes across as rigid and hampers the flow of the film.
Minor qualms aside, Nymphomaniac is dark, thrilling and poetic. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a film about sex either. It’s a film about loneliness and being alone, a film of pain and pleasure that’s held together by intertwined plots and characters. Fans of Von Trier won’t be disappointed.