Danish maverick director (read: troublemaker) Lars von Trier likes to stir the pot, preferably with controversy and provocation. His latest cinematic exercise is one designed to tickle the groin, pinch the arse, and slap the face (or maybe that’s tickle your mind, pinch your aesthetics, and slap your morals into the middle of next week). Nymphomaniac is divided into two parts, each punctuated with a bunch of “chapters” (a stylistic that harks back to his early work).
Both parts are roughly two hours long, and in most cinemas have been screened back-to-back with a short intermission. The crux of the narrative focuses on a woman, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who is found beaten unconscious in a backstreet by the much older Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). He takes her back to his place to recuperate, and she takes it upon herself to recount her life and how she came to be where he found her.
Joe is a sex addict, but prefers the term “nymphomaniac”. Much of both movies portray the younger version of Joe, played by Stacy Martin, and her sexual mis(adventures) with a clutch of men, including Jerome (Shia LaBeaof), who keeps popping up along her wayward path, and “K” (Jamie Bell), a professional sadist who has a bunch of masochistic women on his books, one of whom is Joe, at the end of her tether, desperate for that elusive erotic tryst. By the time she makes her repeat visits to K’s pad she is living dangerously, leaving her toddler alone in her apartment so that she can make the very specific rendezvous. It’s tragic and pathetic, entwined.
I admire the experimentation Lars von Trier has implemented throughout his career, but I don’t always like the results. As curious as Nymphomaniac seems it’s a veneer hiding a self-indulgent and often tedious meander. The ending is decidedly contemptuous, and smacks of the kind of repulsive smug bullshit von Trier is prone to. The best stuff comes from Stacy Martin’s fearless performance and the brilliant “cameo” by Uma Thurman in one scene of controlled domestic chaos. Director’s cut of both parts – longer and with actual sex – will be released for the home market at the end of the year.
Nymphomaniac Volume I Film Review by Bryn Tilly of www.cultprojections.com