Review: Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ Volume I

Review: Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac' Volume I

In Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac Volume I,” a bruised and bloody woman, Joe
(Charlotte Gainsbourg), is found lying in a back alley by a lonely man (Stellan
Skarsgard). Once he ushers her into his home and gets her situated in bed with
tea, he invites the woman to tell her story. How did she get there? 

Thus begins
Joe’s tale of nymphomania, or as she would have it, a lifelong search for “sensation.”
As she recounts the games she’d play as a youngster to pique arousal, and her
loss of virginity to a boy named Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), Skarsgard continually
interrupts to point out how her story parallels that of river trout. He’s intellectualizing
her sordid tales, in a wickedly humorous way, which is indeed what “Nymphomaniac”
is doing, too.

The first volume is largely a comedy. It’s sardonic and
detached, which has the unfortunate effect of keeping Joe at arm’s length. She
feels less like a real character than a symbol. This of course could be seen as
a meta commentary of some sort by von Trier — we feel at a distance from Joe,
cut off from her, as she does from sex — but it’s still frustrating.

Formally, von Trier is ace, as always. The largely handheld film is shot by
Manuel Alberto Claro (“Melancholia”) in rich browns and
greys. Its drab palette has significance, as Joe mentions that her only sin is
“that she’s always demanded more of the sunset.” She’s looking for color — for
feeling, for sensation — but hasn’t fully found it, despite her endless series
of orgasms. Meanwhile, von Trier is clearly having fun with visual gimmicks,
overlaying geometrical symbols and mathematical equations on the images as Joe
tells her tale.

Joe’s misadventures play out in chapters, as we know from
the film’s lengthy publicity campaign with its “appetizer” teaser spots. This
includes a teenage Joe fucking and sucking men on a train, in a competitive game
with her friend; going to work at an office where Jerome now works as manager,
falling in love with him and then losing track of him; later keeping up an
elaborate sex schedule, juggling seven or eight men a night (which results in a
marital ordeal with a frenzied Uma Thurman); and dealing with the slow, painful
death of her father (Christian Slater). 

In all these chapters, young Joe is played by lanky Stacy Martin, good but also inscrutable. Meanwhile, the sex is graphic but cold, part of the elaborate joke of the film. You wanted sex? Well, here it is. Enjoying it? No, didn’t think so.

The penultimate chapter with Slater is where the film
shifts from comedy to tragedy, and von Trier somewhat salvages our emotional
interest in Joe, though it does feel like too little too late. Reactions in the
Sundance audience seemed to be mixed, more hyperbolic than my own — uproarious
laughter but also walkouts. We’ll see where “Volume II” goes. Joe’s tormenting
interests are in the flesh, though I have yet to feel like she’s made of flesh
and blood.

“Nymphomaniac Volume I” is now available on VOD. It hits theaters this Friday, March 21, with “Volume 2” now on VOD and arriving theatrically April 4. Our review of “Volume II” is here.

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Comments

Stephen

This movie was awful. Dreadfully slow, boring and terribly acted. The scenes with older Jerome had mild humor, and the awkwardness of the Uma Thurman scene was the only redeeming quality. It's the kind of movie I would expect from a recent film school graduate.

adaa

Vous pouvez maintenant télécharger
tiny.cc/nexvax

DomizianoA

It sounds however always as Cinema of great, fascinating, human research into the feelings, into existential despair or growth or trouble awakening, or worse, on existential realization of a human and real, very real (even though at the movies always amputated or simply overlooked or forgotten, lately!) realization over our often painful and most intimated conditions! I am not surprised of people's laughing or walking out! They cannot even imagine these days not to be "courted" by a story, but instead to be presented with a real dissatisfaction. Not to mention that, we all know it too well, in America, sex in the movies is still taboo, unless "tastefully" shot and presented as more of a show than a real, sometimes painful, sometimes excruciating, uncontrollable event! And if Von Trier, once more time, is able to achieve such reactions, and, to talk with realism, and, yet with visual poetic beauty of the human condition as a form of provocative way to make us all think how disjointed and hypocrite, how merciless and unaware we are, then he must have once again made a great and important film!

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