Watching Lars von Trier’s 2009 film ‘Antichrist’ is no mean feat. Openly inspired by Japanese horror films ‘Ring’ and ‘Dark Water’, we’re treated to a deranged heave with a dead child, a talking fox, and mangled genitalia – the content of the film almost makes it regular that the closing credits included a ‘researcher on misogyny’. Von Trier favourite Charlotte Gainsbourg went on to win the 2009 Cannes Best Actress award for her portrayal of female protagonist ‘She’, but critics were still entirely divided in opinion over the film’s substantive merit. The Danish film maker’s next creative outpouring gave us the existentially charged ‘Melancholia’ in 2011 – which again saw the film’s female lead (played brilliantly by Kirsten Dunst) win the Cannes Best Actress gong. Despite Von Trier’s high profile sympathising with the Nazis during a press conference, the film’s launch was a rather muted affair by his standards; but now our favourite Danish film maker is back with a bang (plural, literally) with ‘Nymphomaniac’ – a bi-volumed story of the life of a sex obsessed young lady called Joe, which as it turns out is as profound as it is utterly outrageous.
Manuel Alberto Claro won a Danish award for film’s cinematography, and it’s abundantly clear why from the outset. Von Trier and Claro frame the film in a sense of beauty, stillness and considered loneliness very quickly, meaning the viewer is given the license to observe the tale not with a sense of hedonistic sexual frenzy, but instead with one of focused intrigue for the film’s study on the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour.
Gainsbourg plays our resident nymph Joe, who is found by beaten and bloody in an alley by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). As she recounts her insatiable sexual journey to emptiness for him, she places insistent emphasis on how much her flagrant actions have harmed others. Aside from her many, MANY (many) intimate encounters with unsuspecting men, the theme of her family and upbringing are woven into the storyline, albeit in a slightly disjointed fashion. Perhaps the ‘why’ behind her condition is uncovered in Volume Two, but it would have added that final layer of authenticity if we’d been offered a small nod toward the cause behind this very extreme effect.
What appears to start out as a rebellious streak quickly morphs into a battle against love: “For every 100 crimes committed in the name of love, there is only one committed in the name of sex”, being the rationale. One notable scene toward the end of the film closes in on Joe’s face in the throws of ecstasy, but quickly you realise what you’re seeing is in fact a very severe emotional breakdown. The simile being drawn here sounds an obvious one, but is very neatly, sensitively and therefore effectively done.
Shia LaBoeuf – despite the dodgy British accent – gives a near flawless performance as Jerome, the man who took not only her virginity as a teenager but also her heart as an adult. Why he felt the need to sport a paper bag over his head for the film’s premiere remains really rather unclear, but the strength of his performance means he’s forgiven very quickly.
‘Nymphomaniac’ will undoubtedly be compared to McQueen’s ‘Shame’, and sadly to the forthcoming ’50 Shades of Grey’, but the subtle difference here is the complete lack of glamour compared to the gluttonous lifestyle that shroud’s both Fassbender’s Brandon, and inevitably Dornan’s Christian Grey. Von Trier keeps it very real, and for that he should get great artistic credit. Lets just hope Volume 2 can follow this very impressive suit.
3.5 out of 5.
Hedonistic, graphic and all out kinky, but still the most touching film ever made by Mr Von Trier.