Nymphomaniac: Volume One +Two

You've really got to hand it to Lars Von Trier, every time one of his movies come out a sudden, intense, stifling conversation happens with all cinephiles. There's those who revile his work and find it pretentious, mean-spirited, gruesome and then there's those like myself who find his made to shock-frustrate-ponder style to be absolutely brilliant when it does hit the spot. Von Trier isn't perfect, he's made his fair share of duds but the core of his filmography (Breaking The Waves, Dancer In The Dark and Melancholia) is the stuff that dreams are made of. In fact, Von Trier is at his best when he makes us suspend our disbelief and dreams big things. The grotesquely dark song and dance numbers in "Dancer In The Dark" or the end of the world planet collision in "Melancholia" vividly come to mind. Here's a filmmaker that wants us frustrated and hating on him, just because it turns him on.

With all that being said his latest is a 4 hour epic about Nymphomania, more specifically a Nymphomaniac played by the ever so reliably brilliant Charlotte Gainsbourg who's become a sort of muse for the director with this being her third straight collaboration with Von Trier. You really got to hand it to Gainsbourg, the positions -sometimes literally- Von Trier puts the female actresses in his movies would probably not be accepted by many. I mean after all, wasn't it Bjork that decided to retire from acting after having to endure a -now- legendary feud with the director. Bjork was even quoted as saying “He needs a female to provide his work soul. And he envies them and hates them for it. So he has to destroy them during the filming. And hide the evidence.” Those aren't rose colored words folks, but they might explain the way Von Trier operates. All of his films have dealt with a female leads put into the most harrowing and inhumane of situations.

'Nymphomaniac' is really no different. Split into two volumes, with the first one already out and the second one coming out on friday, the films are an absurd series of sexual vignettes that only promote the harsh, frustrating style we've come to know from Von Trier. Gainsbourg plays Joe, a self diagnosed nymphomaniac that in both volumes recounts the erotic experiences she's had the last three decades from troubled, horny teenager to disturbed, criminally minded adult. It's a heavy voyage that justly needed to get split into two. After the first chapter ended I was happy I didn't have to sit through another 2 hours of tormented sexuality, I however happily dove into the second chapter a few days later but came out feeling the same way. It is probably how Von Trier intended to make you feel, downright dirty and wanting to take a shower immediately.

I know there are quite a few film fests that have screened the -now infamous- 5 and a half hour cut Von Trier intended to release worldwide, to which I say thank the heavens we didn't get tortured into that one and some sane studio head decided to split the film in half. Of course, I know quite a few people that would have sat through the entire damn thing but did they really know what they were getting themselves into? Of course I'm acting like the two Volumes are disastrous, which they are not, it's just that I'd like some sort of justification to be made for such a film with such little subtlety to be this long. I guess the answer lies in the fact that we are dealing with a director that is as explosively unpredictable as the characters he writes for the screen.

Both volumes have brilliant moments, one of which comes courtesy of a 10 minute acting lesson from Uma Thurman herself - a scene typical of Von Trier in its distressing, brilliant uncomfortableness. Another very funny one involves Gainsbourg, frustratingly not able to orgasm anymore, deciding to pick up two African guys who don't know a word of english and having sex with them. There are many other flashes of brilliance from Von Trier throughout both volumes but one wishes that he could have maybe taken the best scenes from both volumes and made one good 2 hour movie out of it. The subject matter and story are just not worth the 4 hours of investment and the feeling of excess is very apparent throughout the running time.