Lars von Trier and the increasingly controversial Shia LaBeouf collaborate on a
film, it creates a certain level of expectations. Add in a generous helping of
explicit sexual content and you would anticipate of perfect storm of
provocation. Instead, it will be fans of the Dogma 95 co-founder who will feel
vindicated by his latest bout of risk-taking. Far from a source of joy, sex is
an act of existential alienation in von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Volume One (trailer here), which opens
tomorrow in New York.
is a good Samaritan, who offers to take Joe to a hospital when he finds her
battered in the street. She firmly demurs, only reluctantly allowing the older
man to patch her wounds in his nearby flat. Joe not only blames herself for her
alarming state, she rather seems to think she had it coming. She will explain
why over a hot cup of tea.
discovered her power turn men into animals at a young age. Like a playboy notching
his belt, she regularly challenges her chum B to a contest of who can score the
most men in a given period. However, B starts breaking one of their cardinal
rules, allowing affection (or worse still, love) to influence her erotic pursuits.
As a result, Joe becomes a solitary seducer, who deliberately leaves broken
lives in her wake. Yet, Seligman insists on finding redemptive elements in each
of her tales—or so he tries, in between fishing analogies and literary
Joe’s self-indictment is consistently and cumulatively damning. In a
particularly memorable episode, Mrs. H outdoes Medea, shaming her wayward
husband and the trampy Joe by crashing their vice-pad with her shockingly young
sons. Yet, Joe really is not shamed. She is already hollow inside, desensitized
by her carnal compulsions.
there is a lot of sex and nudity in Volume
One, but it is not the least bit
seductive or titillating. Instead, this is an unrated morality tale, which
explicitly cautions viewers of the dire consequences wrought by divorcing sex
from love (or least like to a reasonable extent).
should be noted, this all applies solely to Volume
One seen independently of Volume Two.
Based on the teaser that runs during the closing credits, von Trier apparently cranks
up the lurid content of the concluding installment. Whether or not this anticipated
foray into Shades of Grey territory
will come with a disingenuous claim of “empowerment” remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, Volume One ends at an
oddly logical and unsettling point.
it is not the naughty business that is interesting, but the conversations between
the not-as-young-as-she-used-to-be Joe and Seligman. Von Trier’s language is
highly literate and rich with meaning. Past von Trier alumni Charlotte Gainsbourg
and Stellan Skarsgård quickly develop the darnedest screen chemistry,
encompassing morbid fascination and humanist compassion. Despite the film’s
explicit content, von Trier assembled quite a cast, including Uma Thurman, who knocks
the wind out of viewers as the ferocious Mrs. H.
a case of trial by fire, Stacy Martin makes a bold screen debut as the
twenty-something Joe, but her character is so glacially reserved, the role better
demonstrates her willingness to serve the needs of a film rather than her
emotional range, per se. On the other hand, Christian Slater cannot shake off
his snarky b-list persona as Joe’s henpecked father. (By the way, if any von
Trier fans are wondering, Udo Kier will duly appear in Volume Two.)
One, von Trier stakes a claim to being a truly subversive contrarian. He
makes sex look like no fun whatsoever. In fact, hedonism takes a toll on the
soul and inextricably leads to some very dark places. Better to go fishing
instead. Recommended for mature, fully informed audiences as a film in its own
right, Nymphomaniac Volume One opens
this Friday (3/21) in New York downtown at the Landmark Sunshine and uptown at
the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.
Labels: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Slater, Lars von Trier, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Uma Thurman