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.