Monday, March 24, 2014

Nymphomaniac


Grade: 77/B+

Lars von Trier is many things: a provocateur, a neurotic, a depressive, a trickster, and an immensely skilled filmmaker. These traits frequently wrestle with each other within his films, with the deliberately galling elements clashing with the always beautiful form, or the prankish side juxtaposing oddly with the miserable. Rarely has this been more clear than with his new two-part epic Nymphomaniac, a bold, often brilliant, frequently frustrating and always fascinating film that’s as much a self-searching personal statement as it is a new work from a master filmmaker.

Frequent von Trier muse Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as Joe, a self-identified nymphomaniac who’s found beaten up in an alley by the analytical Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). Seligman asks Joe how she ended up there, and she proceeds to lay out her life story: her close relationship with her father (Christian Slater), her deflowering as a young woman (Stacy Martin) by the callous Jerǒme (Shia LaBeouf, briefly taking a break from not being famous anymore) and their subsequent relationship, her encounters with a dominator (Jamie Bell) and other men, and the vast lengths she’ll go to satisfy herself. As she confesses to being a bad person, Seligman tries to understand and empathize with it by drawing parallels to his knowledge of the world.

Nymphomaniac was released in a bifurcated form not unlike that of Kill Bill (although longer versions of both segments are on the way); as with Tarantino’s film, the split is more commercially oriented than it is in service to the work, but there is a decided difference between the two halves. Nymphomaniac’s first two hours see von Trier the prankster at work. Shocking and audacious as some of the material might be (a blowjob that has to be on a prosthetic but still looks awfully convincing; numbers showing up onscreen for every thrust from LaBeouf), it’s wildly funny stuff, made more so by Seligman’s often irrelevant observations (the second half even shows Joe losing patience with him, “I think this was one of your worst diversions.”)

But there’s a careful balancing act between the hilarious moments and the deeply  uncomfortable ones, including an astonishing sequence in which Uma Thurman, playing the wife of one of Joe’s conquests, arrives at her apartment to take her sons on a tour to “the whoring bed.” There’s an element of dark comedy at work, but it doesn’t undercut the genuine pain on display. What’s remarkable is that, for a long time, the film’s attempts to find meaning in these episodes – whether these moments of pleasure and sadism are signs of a bad person or an exploratory one – avoid feeling didactic, even as Seligman analyzes and overanalyzes everything Joe tells him. The film shows von Trier drawing a parallel between himself and Joe and Seligman with his critics, attempts at empathy or criticism being met with either derision or deflection, depending on the moment.

The second half, by contrast, takes on a much more depressive tone. Sure, there are moments of comedy – two African immigrants arguing, without subtitles, over something regarding a threesome with Joe, their erect penises wiggling all throughout – but it takes a backseat to often literal moments of sadism, from Jamie Bell whipping Joe until she bleeds to an encounter between Joe and a debtor with a terrible secret. It’s at this point where the throwbacks to earlier von Trier films (the overt political incorrectness of Manderlay, a moment that recalls the opening of Antichrist) start to feel too considered, as do many of Seligman’s observations. When Seligman admits to being asexual and inexperience with sex, it’s hard not to smack your forehead for the critic corollary falling into such an obvious straw man (seriously, Lars, you can voice your frustrations without resorting to hackneyed arguments). The final twenty minutes in particular fall close to Antichrist in terms of trying way too hard to be provocative at the expense of finding a more natural conclusion.

Still, even with its missteps, Nymphomaniac is a fascinating capstone to von Trier’s Depression trilogy (Antichrist, Melancholia), filled with strong supporting performances and a bravura turn from Gainsbourg. It’s a film about trying to understand one’s sins and experiences, and the frustration of therapy and analysis not being of any use. We may not like every turn Joe (or von Trier) takes us down, but it’s hard not to want to know where it’s leading.

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25 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  3. Pssst…

    pssst…

    sshhhhh…non giratevi....

    fate finta di niente....

    sono l‘agente moollllto segreto Ostin Pauers, quello di cui si parla nei commenti di questo blog…(parlando bene l'inglse sto ovviamente usando uno pseudonimo).

    Volevo innanzitutto ringraziare tutta la rete dei bloggeroni (che sono gli agenti moolllto segreti e tutti massoni 2.0) che cancellano quei commenti che rischiano di far saltare la mia copertura di agente moollllto segreto impegnato in missioni segretisssime.

    Purtroppo non posso rivelare nulla da qui ma chi volesse essere reclutato nella rete dei bloggeroni o volesse informazioni sulla mia occultisssima attività mi contatti pure.

    Vi rivelerò importanti informazioni e vi spiegherò anche come vive un pericolosissimo e segretissimo soggetto come il sottoscritto.

    A presto.

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  4. ringrazio il bloggerone 009 ;)

    e scuserete anche lo stile di questi commenti.
    E' come il coraggio di Don Abbondio.

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. Occhio a ...
    il controspionaggio sa che faccio parte di società complottarde
    come i Nights Club...ehm...no.. volevo dire...Lions Club.
    Poi pensa che faccio parte anche di aziende edili dove ci sono muratori...ehm...volevo dire..massoni.
    Va beh ragazzi in ogni caso occhi aperti e pronti a tutto.

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  7. CHI FREGA AGLI ALTRI SEI TU, SCHIFOSO BASTARDO. VISTO CHE INSISTI, ADESSO TI FARAI MALE DAVVERO. TUOI CANALI DI STA MINCHIA, PRIVILEGIATI, CON GOOGLE, O MENO ( E SEI PURE UN TIPO DI EBREO, DI MERDA, VISTO CHE FAI LA GUERRA AD ALTRE PERSONE CHE PURE HAN COGNOMI EBREI). IL NOSTRO CUORE VINCERA' LE TUE MAFIE SGOZZA DEMOCRAZIA, LIBERTA' E CIVILTA'! IO TI INCONTRO QUANDO E DOVE VUOI. POI VEDIAMO CHI E IL LEONE DA TASTIERA E CHI DA TASTIERA ED ANCHE DI STRADA.

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