Saturday, March 8, 2014

Nymphomaniac: Volume I


Few auteurs are more controversial, both by their work and in the media, than Lars von Trier.  But whether you love him or hate him (and if you know him at all, it's probably one of those two extremes) you won't soon forget any of his work that you've seen.  I've been a fan ever since I saw series one of his 'Twin Peaks' meets 'Chicago Hope' Danish TV series 'The Kingdom' in 1997.  I love his outside the box way of doing things, probably never better displayed than in 'Dogville' and 'Manderlay' where instead of proper sets and production design he uses simple chalk outlines to deconstruct the conventions of storytelling.  I fully admire his relentlessness to dig deep into the darker sides of people, in a world that constantly preaches positivity way past the point of honesty.  And even when/if he crosses the line of good taste, as I think he did in the torture porn thriller 'Antichrist', he delivers performances, scenes, and imagery than won't soon be forgotten, if ever.  He is a true auteur in every sense of the word.

This time, Von Trier tackles sex addiction.  Told in flashback by Charlotte Gainsbourg to Stellan Skarsgard, both known well to fans of Von Trier's films, it is her story growing up as a nymphomaniac.  She is plagued by self hatred, but as he listens without judgment, it becomes apparent that even these seemingly shameful acts are all about perspective.

Stacy Martin stars as Gainsbourg's younger alter ego.  Shia LeBeouf (who's also had his share of controversy lately, wearing a paper bag over his head on the red carpet at the Berlin Film Festival that said 'I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE' and then walked out of a press conference for this film after a cryptic response to the first question) bares all in some raw, real, and not just simulated sex scenes.  And Christian Slater and Uma Thurman also pop up in supporting roles.  (As an aside, I can't help but notice that this is Thurman's second time appearing in one film intentionally split into two volumes, with 'Kill Bill' being her first.)

Considering all the buzz and the anticipation for this film, I can't say I was blown away.  It's well made, well acted, and certainly compelling enough but, at least Volume I doesn't seem quite up to the same level of the best of Von Trier's prior works.  It's surprisingly less disturbing than Shame, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing actually.  Rest assured, there are plenty of explicit sex scenes, so the title isn't a tease in any sense of the word.  But I'll refrain from a final decision on how I feel about the film in its entirety until after I've seen Volume II.

'Nymphomaniac: Volume 1' is now available on Video on Demand.  Volume II will be released on VOD on 3/20.  Both parts are around two hours.  Now, is this just a ploy to make us pay twice or was this split done for artistic reasons?  Frankly I'm having trouble believing it's the latter, but it's certainly good enough that it's worth two payments of $10 each, so I won't complain.

Grade: B+ (at least for now, until I see Volume II in two weeks.)

Who is this movie for:  Art film fans and Von Trier cult followers.  It's definitely NOT for the mainstream audience, and prudes of any degree should stay far, far away.  I'm just glad I don't have to figure out how to talk about this on morning television!

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