Lars Von Trier is a director that has really been hit or miss for me, and more miss then hit realistically. Sometimes I find his work brilliant and totally absorbing such being the cases with Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark. However more recently I have found his work to be reeking with pretentiousness, which always takes away from the story, such as the case in Dogville, Antichrist and his most recent film Melancholia. Nymphomaniac vol.1 is without a doubt his best work since Dancer in the Dark, and he thankfully pushes aside his self indulgence and allows the story to breath on its on. Don’t get me wrong there are still some classic Von Trier moments in this film but they don’t take away from the film.
The movie has a been a lighting rod for controversy ever since it was announced as a project. Of course all Von Trier’s work comes with a level of controversy, though this time it didn’t feel like it was Lars himself making the waves for his film. The movie details extremely graphic sex scenes, you see men’s and women’s parts in very graphic ways, thanks to the help of prosthetics as well as computer merging of the real actors and body doubles. The film is not by any means pornographic though, and for a film that has such much nudity and hard core sex shots, it is almost completely un-erotic. I have heard some refer to it as anti-porn.
The story opens as we see a lady named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) laying in the middle of walk way that connects two streets. She is bleeding from the head and has clearly had some sort of accident. Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds her laying there and brings her back to his house, gives her tea and offers to wash her clothes.
From this point forward the story is told in flash backs, as Joe tells Seligman her life story. We learn that Joe is a self diagnosed Nymphomaniac, who’s years of abuse to her body have made her a self loathing mess. We get four chapters of the eight chapter saga in vol. 1, stories that include her earliest sexual experiences, the loss of her virginity, her relationship with her father, how her and her best friend played a game on a train that involved sex with strangers and her encounter with one of the wives of the men she was sleeping with. We also get to story of her one true love Jerome (Shia LaBeouf).
Lars Von Trier even in his worst work, always seems to have some excellent shots within his films. The film starts in complete blackness as we hear the sounds of water hitting metal objects. The film that turns to color and we re watch that scene with full view of what is going on. It may serve no over all purpose to the film but it is a great moment with excellent use of sound.
Stacy Martin plays Joe in the flashbacks scene’s, in a performance that really requires her to show EVERYTHING, almost all the time. She is naked more often then clothed in the movie. She gives a great performance that could have easily just been all about the nudity but manages to capture some real emotional depth, such as when she visits her father in the hospital during Chapter 4. Shia LaBeouf also turns in a winning performance here as he washes away his superstar status, for some compelling work. There are some nice supporting turns in here as well from Hollywood A listers, including a real standout from Uma Thurman as the wife of one Joe’s partner’s, that has an encounter with Joe.
Since this film is called Nymphomaniac Vol.1 that of course means there is a Vol.2, and this is much like Kill Bill were the two films make up one giant film. Considering it would be a nearly 4 hour running length, splitting this into two was the correct move. I was gonna write a piece on both films as a whole, because I watched them together, but decided against it. Vol.1 tells a completely interesting story arch of Joe’s early sexual life experiences and it stands alone as a whole. This is the first time I have enjoyed a Lars Von Trier movie in over a decade and I wanted to share that experience with you, as you will see I am not so fond of what happens in Vol.2.