Saturday, 22 February 2014

Nymphomaniac Volumes 1&2 Review

To be honest, I had my doubts when I went to see this film. After all the buzz, I more or less expected a provocative, pretentious, incomprehensible porno film. I thought Nymphomaniac would be a shallow artistic excuse to show lots of explicit sex in an attempt to shock the audience and create controversy.

Well, I was wrong.

Is it provocative? In some ways, yes. I think choosing nymphomania as a subject for a film is already some sort of provocation. And there are some scenes that might be considered tasteless or mildly shocking. But if I would have to describe the film in one word, I wouldn't use 'provocative'. Instead, I would use 'imaginative'.

Because that is what this film is: imaginative. It's so full of ideas, full of creativity and full of cinematographic exuberance that it's hard not be impressed. The nice thing is that Lars Von Trier never takes himself too seriously. In a way, it's a pity that the film is about sex. So much attention is being given to the number of penises shown and the number of vagina close-ups that it overshadows everything else, including the creative way the film is made.

Lars Von Trier has crafted an absolutely epic story filled with beauty, humour and heartbreak – but it's his writing that is most impressive. Von Trier's dialogue is so simple, yet so beautiful. The dialogue between Joe and Seligman is remarkable. The words are literally coming off the page. As good as the acting is, it's hard not to be impressive when you're given this material. His script is dense. He's created this world that is unlike no other. It doesn't have an actual set city – everyone speaks with a different accent (whether that is intentional or not I don't know) - but it definitely has a universe. You're immersed in this universe for four hours and you never want to leave.

The story is told very cleverly. It's told in chapters and it really has this 'epic' feel about it. Like we're being told a fairy tale, albeit an X-rated fairy tale. It's a nice juxtaposition that gives the film depth. Von Trier visualises this to aplomb. One wonderful example of this creative approach is the final chapter, where Joe sees a similarity between her complicated love life and Seligman's favourite piece of polyphonic organ music. She compares her lovers to the three different melodic tunes in the music. The way Von Triers visualizes this, with the screen split in three to show cross cuttings of the organ and the lovers, is original and funny at the same time. Throughout the film we get ugly, pointless inserts (nature shots, animals, choir boys etc.) that are derived from low-quality, low-resolution video material. This is a fantastic technique used by Von Trier because it gives us a break from the bleak drama. They're funny, refreshing and well used.

His visualisation is helped by some superb performances. Obviously, Charlotte Gainsborough, newcomer Stacy Martin and Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd will receive most of the plaudits – but there are some fantastic performances hidden beneath. Uma Thurman, who is in the film for one scene, brings the film it's funniest moments. She is absolutely brilliant. I haven't seen her this good for a long, long time. Also, Jamie Bell plays a fantastic sadist. (Who would have thought?! Billy bloody Elliot!)

The film is split into two parts in Kill Bill style. Although this was not Von Trier's choice, it's handled very well. The two parts are distinct and the both carry a different style and tone. The first part has a lighter tone and plays out as a tongue-in-cheek caper while the second is darker and grittier. Both work very well and oddly, despite the change in tones, they lead into each other very well. However, the transformation from 'young Joe' to 'older Joe' feels very weird. It felt rigid and hampered the flow of the film. The same can be said of other characters that were recast, it feels very odd. It was an odd decision considering the age difference isn't particularly that big. Despite this, the film never feels too long, which, considering its length, is very impressive.

It's funny and brilliant, its dark and thrilling and its poetic at the same time. If you're a fan of Von Trier you won't be disappointed and equally, if you're not I think it's an accessible film. This film is not about sex. Its about loneliness between sensations, about being alone among people who suffer from lack of attachment. Its about life that struggles with death by facing death, to the ultimate boundary of pleasure.

It's a superb film and I would liken it more to a film of intertwining plots and characters such as Pulp Fiction and last years The Place Beyond the Pines. It's a clever that just happens to be about sex. Take a chance. Go and see it.