Film review - Nymphomaniac Vol I and Vol II
Published 03/03/2014 | 02:30
WATCHING a Lars von Trier film is akin to being teased by your older sibling during childhood. It takes all your energy to follow your parents' advice and not give your tormentor the satisfaction of a reaction. This can leave little in the tank to search his films for redeeming features.
A member of the uncompromising Danish Dogme 95 school, Von Trier made a name for himself by wedging enough shards of brilliance into his films to justify his childish need to shock and discomfort. Melancholia (2011) toned back the genital-mutilating nightmare of Antichrist (2009) but still had to end in the destruction of the planet. That's our Lars.
The naughty provocateur would probably love to hear Nymphomaniac, his new two-part grind through female sexuality, described as puerile crapology of the lowest order, so we can't do that. Instead we have to look at artistic merit, but again this proves difficult. And given how unenjoyable the film is, it also begs the question of what price we put on art.
LVT's regular punchbag, Charlotte Gainsbourg, is, as Joe, beaten, defiled and humiliated once again by the Dane. Bookended with shrill blasts of German industrial metal, Volume I sees Joe found, bruised and unconscious in an alleyway, by kindly asexual academic Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). When she comes into his dingy flat, she decides to recount the story of her life as a sex-mad nymphomaniac, "discovering her c**t" at the age of two and bonking her way vacuously through several chapters of bleak eroticism. Extended flashbacks show the teenage Joe (played with cold precision by Stacy Martin) cruising train carriages, meeting furious wives (Uma Thurman sweeps one scene off its feet) and having lots of jiggy-jiggy with boyfriend Jerome (Shia laBeouf).
Volume II finds Joe trying to relocate her orgasm through dangerous explorations such as employing an S&M guru (played by Jamie Bell) and threesomes with strangers. In one colourful scene, she takes pity on a paedophile by fellating him. You get the idea. All the while, Seligman helpfully dishes out glib metaphorical insights between chapters, comparing Joe's carry-on with everything from fly-fishing (The Taming of the Shrew tried something similar) to the East/West divide in Christianity. Don't be surprised if your eyes roll back in your head.
Sexier detergent ads have been filmed and, in fairness to Von Trier, that's precisely the idea. Joe's lust is a dead-eyed place shot with a dishwater pallor applied to everything. Porn actors supply the highly intimate anatomical shots and it's all very cruel and exploitative. The black humour is fun in moments, but tedium reigns large in Nymphomaniac, climaxing in Von Trier's neo-feminist hokum about Joe merely doing what men have always done.
The whole resembles the lurid fantasy of a horny virgin who has just discovered pornography and feels they have something to say on female eroticism. You can get over the distasteful tracts, the provocation masquerading as high art and the pretentiousness. What is harder to excuse is the amount of your time that has been wasted in the endeavour.
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