Saturday, December 27, 2014
Written and directed by Lars von Trier, Nymphomaniac is a two-part, five-and-a-half hour film (in its director’s cut) that explores the life of a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac who has endured an illustrious yet trouble sexual history as she tells her story to a man who analyzes her story. The third and final part of Lars von Trier’s Depression trilogy, the film is an exploration into the life of a woman who copes with her sexual desires which leads to dangerous territories as her attempts to find normalcy leads to depression and loss as the character of Joe is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin in two different ages. Also starring Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier, Connie Nielsen, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Bell, and Jesper Christensen. Nymphomaniac is a sprawling, provocative, and eerie film from Lars von Trier.
While it may be a film of a simple story involving the life of a nymphomaniac, it’s a film that explores not just the idea of sexuality and love but also how a woman tries to find fulfillment through sex in a life that is very turbulent. Told largely in a narrative where Joe tells her story to this man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), it plays into Joe’s life with Seligman analyzing these events through eight chapters. Through the course of the story, Seligman becomes fascinated by her story with some curiosity and disgust while he brings in a lot of strange theories and ideas into the mix that intrigues Joe. There is a unique interplay between the two as Joe is telling her story as it would have this rise-and-fall scenario where the first half of the film is about Joe using her sex drive as a tool and feels liberated by it. Yet, her encounters with the idea of love, loss, and that liberation would eventually play into her downfall as she is desperate to regain her sexual drive only to go into great extremes which would cost her greatly.
Since it’s a two-part film, it plays into many ideas of what Joe would go through as she tell Seligman her story. The first volume plays into the first five chapters as it relates to Joe’s growing awareness of her sexuality and its power while trying to rebel against the concepts of love. Yet, her encounter with love through the man she lost her virginity to in Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) would complicate things as her attempts to maintain her lifestyle would cause trouble such as the disintegration of a couple’s marriage. The loss of her father (Christian Slater) would start the beginning of Joe’s own descent into depression where a reunion with Jerome would have some repercussions on her sex drive. The second volume plays into that further descent where Joe tries to regain that drive to great extremes as an encounter with a sadist named K (Jamie Bell) would destroy aspects of her personal life. Especially as she tries to conform to society to find fulfillment only to realize who she is as she delves into a darker world.
The script would maintain a back-and-forth scenario where Seligman would give his analysis on this as he is someone that is this intellectual that has read many books on all things in the world such as religion, art, and sex. Yet, he is this observer for the audience as he’s baffled by some of Joe’s antics while Joe would refute some of his analysis while being respectful into his views no matter how overly-analytical they are. That’s where many questions into Seligman come into play where many of Joe’s own hypotheses about him prove to be correct. Though there’s moments where Seligman questions Joe’s views and her behavior in the story, he never judges her while also playing to questions about the people in her own life.
Lars von Trier’s direction is definitely stylish as he goes all-out in terms of visual presentation as well as impact in the way he presents sex at its most graphic. While it’s a film that explores the world of sex and a woman’s sexuality, von Trier definitely aims to create something that is intimate in some parts as it relates to the scenes between Joe and Seligman. Yet, he would also create compositions and images that are very entrancing from his usage of computers to drive the camera movements in some scenes such as the moment Seligman finds the beaten Joe. The direction also includes a lot of hand-held shots and some stylized shots where von Trier would also play with aspect ratios in order to convey some of the drama that occurs. Particularly in the sequence in the film’s third chapter where the young Joe deals with a very distraught wife (Uma Thurman) of one of her lovers.
The direction also has von Trier use different film stocks and visual motifs to play into the film where some of the images are grainy while the fourth chapter sequence of Joe meeting her father for the last time is in black-and-white. The use of wide shots and close-ups are quite evident in the way von Trier plays with the idea of loss and despair where some of the images he uses definitely serves as a homage to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Some of that sense of beauty plays into von Trier’s portrayal towards sex where some of it is quaint while other moments are confrontational. Notably in the presentation of the sex as it’s very no-hold-barred where anal sex, oral, and all sorts of sexual ideas do come into play yet von Trier uses some very crafty visual effects, with the help of body doubles, into presenting the images of penetration and other graphic sexual scenes. Some of it is shocking as it does get quite intriguing in the first volume yet things do meander during the sixth chapter in the second volume due to some of the dramatic elements in the film while some aspects do get ridiculous. Especially where Seligman would question into the validity of Joe’s story.
The extended cut of von Trier’s version of the film definitely showcases more graphic scenes as it involves close-ups of genitalia and other shocking moments. Most notably a sequence in the film’s seventh chapter that will definitely test people in terms of its mixture of sexual and violent content as the result will either disgust people or bring unintentional laughter. The film does definitely go full circle towards the end as it ends in some respects to the beginning as it’s followed by Seligman trying to comprehend Joe’s story. Especially as it raises questions into the ideas of sex as well as what would happen if a man was in Joe’s position to be a nymphomaniac. Overall, von Trier creates a very disturbing yet evocative film about a woman’s chaotic sexual life.
Cinematographer Manuel Albert Claro does brilliant work with the film‘s very stylized cinematography from the usage of digital polish in the film‘s fourth chapter segment to the use of grainy camera footage for some scenes in the final chapter as well as some unique lighting shade and schemes that add an entrancing look to the film. Editors Molly Marlene Stensgaard, Jacob Secher Schulsinger, and Volume I editor Morten Hojbjerg do amazing work with the editing with its inspiring usage of montages to play into some of Seligman‘s own analyses as well as some stylish jump-cuts to play into the dramatic tone of the film. Production designer Simone Grau, with set decorator Thorsten Sabel and art director Alexander Scherer, does fantastic work with the different sets created such as the apartment that Seligman lives where Joe would tell her story to the different homes she would live in throughout the journey in her life.
Costume designer Manon Rasmussen does excellent work with the costumes from the array of stylish clothes the young Joe wear to the more conservative look she would wear as she gets older. Hair/makeup designer Dennis Knudsen does terrific work with the look of Joe in her assaulted state as well as the hairstyles the younger version would wear along with the deformed right ear of a character Joe would meet late in the film. Visual effects supervisors Peter Hjorth and Yoel Godo do great work with the visual effects from the realistic look of the sexual content and body doubles that is superimposed on the main actors in the graphic scenes of sex plus a few moments to play into the sense of loss that surrounds Joe.
Sound designer Kristian Eidnes Andersen does superb work with the sound to convey some of the darker moments in the film as well as some of the intimate moments in the drama to play into Joe‘s despair. Music supervisor Mikkel Maltha does wonderful work in assembling the film’s soundtrack as it features a diverse array of music from classical pieces from Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Camille Saint-Saens, George Frederic Handel, and Richard Wagner plus music by Steppenwolf, Rammstein, Talking Heads, and Charlotte Gainsbourg doing a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe.
The casting by Des Hamilton is incredible as it is a massive ensemble as it features appearances from noted von Trier regulars Udo Kier as a waiter in the sixth chapter, Jean-Marc Barr as debtor in the film’s final chapter, Jesper Christensen as Jerome’s uncle in the second chapter, and Jens Albinus as a train passenger the young Joe gives head to in the film’s first chapter. Other noteworthy small roles include Kate Ashfield and Caroline Goodall as two different therapists Joe meets in the seventh chapter, Tania Carlin as a sex addict Joe meets in the seventh chapter, Shanti Roney as an interpreter in the sixth chapter Joe hires to make a meeting involving two African brothers, Michael Pas as an older version of Jerome, Saskia Reeves as a nurse in the film’s fourth chapter, Felicity Gilbert as a secretary the young Joe worked with in the second chapter, and Hugo Speer as a married lover of Joe whom she tries to push away only to cause a lot of trouble into his marriage.
In the roles of the younger versions of Joe, Maja Arsovic and Ananya Berger are wonderful in their roles to display the sense of innocence and curiosity for the young women. Connie Nielsen is terrific as Joe’s very cold mother who is often very distant yet manages to be quite intriguing as she would shape elements of Joe’s growth. Sophie Kennedy Clark is superb as the young Joe’s friend B who shares her love of sex as she would compete with Joe in a game of who can fuck more men while alienating Joe with talks about love. Mia Goth is fantastic as Joe’s apprentice P in the film’s final chapter whom she takes in as she would show her the ropes of her job late in the film. Uma Thurman is remarkable as the wife of one of Joe’s lover who arrives to her apartment as she is terrifying in displaying a woman coming apart as her family is being destroyed.
Willem Dafoe is brilliant as a crime boss named L who hires her in the final chapter as well as introducing her to P. Jamie Bell is amazing as the very disturbing sadomasochist K who would help Joe regain elements of her sexuality but at a great price as it’s a very troubling yet exhilarating performance from Bell. Shia LaBeouf is excellent as Jerome Morris as the man whom Joe would lose her virginity to as she would encounter him numerous times as she would eventually marry him only for their marriage to disintegrate as LaBeouf displays some restraint into his performance. Christian Slater is great as Joe’s father as a man who loves tree as she is someone whom Joe adores as she copes badly with his death as there’s a sensitivity and warmth to Slater’s performance that is entrancing to watch.
Stellan Skarsgard is phenomenal as Seligman as a book-smart intellectual who listens and analyzes Joe’s story as he displays some humor and humility to his performance as it’s also full of charm as it’s one of Skarsgard’s best performances. Stacy Martin is sensational as the young Joe as this woman who is quite wild and full of energy as she seeks to find fulfillment in her sexuality as she later copes with the aspects of loss and growing up into adulthood. Finally, there’s Charlotte Gainsbourg in a tremendous performance as the older Joe as a woman desperate to regain her sexual drive only to deal with depression and loneliness as Gainsbourg does great work in her narration as well as play into Joe’s sense of indifference and viewpoints about the ways of the world with such coldness as it’s one of her finest performances.
Nymphomaniac is an astonishing yet harrowing film from Lars von Trier that features great performances from Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, and Stellan Skarsgard. While it’s definitely a bold and ambitious that is flawed at times, it is still very compelling for the way it explores a woman and her sexuality as well as her descent into depression. It’s also a film that is willing to ask some very big questions about women and their idea of sexuality where it will definitely raise discussions about the concept of nymphomania. In the end, Nymphomaniac is a rapturous and spectacular film from Lars von Trier.
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