NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL. 1 & 11
Director: Lars von Trier
Screenwriter: Lars von Trier
Runtime: 240 mins.
Australian release date: 27 March 2014
Australian audiences, along with those in many other territories, are initially being shown the combined version of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: vol. 1 and Nymphomaniac: vol. 11, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013. With the director’s approval, the film has been cut, pared down from five and a half hours to four, thus removing the more explicit close-ups of genitals. The long version of Nymphomaniac: vol. I & II is expected to be released later this year. Comprised of eight chapters, the movie is the last part of von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, the other two being Antichrist and Melancholia.
Anyway, although long, the film actually skips along at a fair pace. We are introduced to Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is found mugged in an alleyway and taken home and given a bed and a cup of tea by a kindly older man, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). Joe opens up to Seligman and begins to tell him about her life and, in particular, her sexual adventures. As the stories progress Joe exhibits a number of emotions, chief among them self-loathing, and continually questions the ethics of her desires. In chapter two Seligman learns that at 15, the young Joe, played by newcomer Stacy Martin, elected to lose her virginity to Jerôme (Shia LaBoeuf), and that she has had an intermittent relationship with him through the years - indeed, he may be the only man she has ever loved despite her many, many sexual partners. Jerôme penetrates her armour, forcing her to declare that, “Love is just lust with jealousy added.”
It’s easy to grasp von Trier’s intent in certain chapters but the meaning of some others is less accessible. Uma Thurman (in a stand-out performance), plays a jilted wife who turns up with her kids to confront Joe and her philandering husband and takes the kids on a tour of Joe’s apartment to show them the “whoring bed!” Another chapter tells of the train ride schoolgirl Joe and her gal-pal B (Sophie Kennedy Clark), take to see who can ‘score’ with the most men for the prize of a bag of chocolates. As Joe relates her stories, Seligman interjects with his analysis, using his intellect to make comparisons of Joe’s nymphomania with subjects like fly fishing, music and art. There are some funny moments but underneath it all is a sense of something sinister, a hint of some dark force that has Joe enslaved.
Controversy invariably surrounds the Danish director and this latest work will leave much comment in its wake. A lot has been said about the sex scenes, which have been described as bordering on pornography, however, both the director and the producer, Louise Vesth, have stated that prosthetic vaginas were used in the early scenes and in fact (according to a disclaimer in the end credits) the actors did not engage in actual sex - porno stars’ genitalia were digitally superimposed over the films stars’ bits. Phew, that makes it all okay then! The reality is that those punters coming along for a bit of titillation may be somewhat disappointed as, in reality, it is all pretty dispassionate. It will more likely cause consternation amongst critics who will continue to debate whether von Trier is a misogynist, as has been mooted in connection to some of his earlier films, or is merely using such controversial subject matter to fuel his enfant terrible reputation? Or perhaps the director simply enjoys being in the centre of an argument with critics?
As with all of von Trier’s work, this film has a good stable of performers and fine cinematography, propped up with the usual quirky music score, but it is a film that will divide its audience. As with von Trier’s previous films, it will depend on whether or not you are prepared to go with it, not pre-judging his intentions, and to try and work it out as you are watching it. Personally, I feel that this is not the best of the trilogy, as for me, Melancholia is a masterpiece. However, Nymphomaniac: vol. 1 & 11 is an important film, if only for the fact that it will rattle a few cages and create a number of diverse reactions. Like him or loathe him, Lars von Trier will always make you think a little harder about the world we live in.