Film Review: Nymphomaniac

Nymphomaniac

Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is absorbing, amusing and though-provoking cinema. Behind the rodomontade of controversy, Nymphomaniac is an excellent film.

Seligman finds Joe injured on the streets as he returns to his apartment. Inviting her in to recuperate, self-confessed nymphomaniac Joe begins to tell Seligman her story…

Nymphomaniac Volume I and Volume II are engrossing films best viewed in quick succession. The narrative framing device allows for effective storytelling. Both the storyteller Joe and her listener Seligman are interesting characters. Both bring something compelling to proceedings.

Lars von Trier’s writing in Nymphomaniac is superb. The film works as a straightforward recollection of events. In this way, it is both entertaining and reflective. Notwithstanding, with the addition of other elements, von Trier’s film delivers more. Bringing religion, mythology and mathematics in to embellish the tale adds an extra layer of depth. The interruptions of Seligman (surely a reference to the psychologist rather than a coincidence) are both humorous and insightful.

Much has been made of the prurience of this film, stoked to a certain extent by Nymphomaniac‘s memorable marketing. Whilst the film is very explicit, it is not erotic. The draw here is how the story will unfold. Volume I departs with enough of a hook to reel viewers in for the second part.

Lars von Trier makes the most of nature, as he has done in previous films. Familiar preoccupations of the writer-director are also visible here, with no less potency. Direction is thoughtful, whilst references show a level of sophistication. The use of Rammstein in the film’s opening provides a blistering introduction.

Ultimately, Nymphomaniac is an unequivocally feminist piece. That it uses explicit imagery to tell its story does not negate from the importance or strength of overall message. To a certain extent, the film acts as a riposte to criticism of Antichrist.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is most believable as Joe, as is Stacy Martin as her younger counterpart. Stellan Skarsgård is excellent, whilst Christian Slater and Jamie Bell great. Uma Thurman delivers a star turn in a small role. Shia LaBeouf is less convincing with an erratic accent and hesitant performance.

The protagonists in the film are drawn so well that the shift in these characters is subtle and credible. When the cataclysmic finale arises it is paradoxically shocking and cogent.

Nymphomaniac certainly isn’t for everyone. Nevertheless, the film proves to be provocative and entertaining viewing.

Nymphomaniac Volume I and Volume II are being screened back to back in UK cinemas for one evening only, on Saturday 22nd February 2014.

Film Review: Melancholia

Melancholia is a heart-wrenchingly acute depiction of depression. Those who are not fully absorbed may find the 136-minute running time a bit much, but most will be hooked by Lars von Trier’s film.

On her wedding day, Justine should be the happiest she has ever been. Instead, she cannot seem to shake her negative feelings. At the same time, her sister Claire is anxious about a planet which is set to narrowly pass by Earth in the coming days…

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is more satisfying film than his last effort Antichrist. There is a completeness to Melancholia that was missing from the 2009 film. Melancholia is more conventional than its predecessor, and this is definitely a good thing.

Notwithstanding, von Trier hallmarks are apparent throughout the film. This is particularly true of the opening sequence. Although the imagery in this segment is beautiful, there is also a healthy dose of pretension. The slow-motion scene seems a specific trait of the director.

The beauty of Melancholia is its ability to compel viewers to identify with Justine, as well as Michael and Claire. Viewers should be able to empathise with Justine, as well as being able to sympathise with the frustration she causes to Claire and Michael. This bodes well for the second half of the film, which lays more emphasis on older sister Claire.

Melancholia‘s portrayal of depression appears incredibly authentic. What makes it so convincing is its multi-faceted nature. The nature of Justine’s plight is made clear as the first half of the film unfolds. It is difficult not to be moved by her condition. Her pained behaviour seems genuine, and illustrative of what a debilitating illness depression is. Similarly, the array of emotions expressed by Claire are equally convincing. The sympathy, frustration and sorrow Claire feels towards her younger sister exemplify why Melancholia is such a great film.

The film is beautifully shot. Lars von Trier and cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro have done a fantastic job in making the visuals so alluring. There is a good mix of intimate shots and large-scale imagery, and great attention to detail. The effects employed by Melancholia are also good.

Kirsten Dunst offers perhaps her best performance to date as Justine. She is entirely convincing throughout the film. Charlotte Gainsbourg is also great as Claire, while solid support is offered from Alexander Skarsgård, Keifer Sutherland and John Hurt.

Melancholia can be heavy-going, with its sombre subject matter. However, it is an incredibly worthwhile watch.