Thursday, April 3, 2014

[Review] Nymphomaniac: Volume I & II

Danish filmmaker and provocateur Lars von Trier extends his controversy with Nymphomaniac, the four-hour plus, two volume portrait of a self-diagnosed sex addict.

The film opens with a prolonged black screen and transitions to a drippy and dark alleyway where we see a woman lying battered and bruised on the concrete. This is Joe (Gainsbourg), the story's protagonist (Stacy Martin plays the younger version). Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds her and invites her into his home.

Joe begins telling her life story while Seligman intently listens. Shown through explicitly detailed, chapter-divided flashbacks, Joe recounts her sexual experiences--from early exploration, various hook-ups, a train game (I'll let you guess what that is), to her on-and-off relationship with Jerome (a greasy Shia LeBouf).

Seligman responds with fascination. He waxes intellectual, and incredibly (and somewhat hilariously) attributes Joe's episodes to the topics of fly-fishing, Fibonacci numbers, musical notes and more. The final chapter of Volume I ends with Joe having sex and distressingly proclaiming, "I can't feel anything!" This sets up Volume II as Joe's quest to regain her feelings of pleasure, leading to some more "experimental" territories.

The discussions between Joe and Seligman provide some interesting framework. But it's difficult to decipher whether the device is an outlet for von Trier to clearly express his intentions while refuting accusations of misogyny by constructing a loosely feminist position and turning the moral hypocrisy of society on its head, or if he's just criticizing his critics and making a joke of analysis. Or both. Or none of the above.

If you're wondering about the extent of its graphics, it isn't all that shocking in a post-porn world. The visual boundary pushing is more-so the idea that these unsimulated acts and close-ups of genitalia are being presented on a very large screen.

Nymphomaniac proves to be more than just a snuff fest, but the moments of striking engagement are too sparse over the course. And while it's rich, complex, and ripe for interpretations from all angles, the monotony and repetition drabs it down. Even when the volumes are viewed on separate occasions, the film is tiresome, tedious, floppy, and limp, no matter which lens you view it through.


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