With Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" opening in several European countries, including Denmark, on Christmas Day, this morning saw the first batch of reviews hit the web. And the general consensus? Pretty positive across the board. The most negative review came from The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy who found the central figure played by Charlotte Gainsbourg too opaque. Yet he still states that the film is "never boring"; remarkable considering it runs a whopping four hours. Magnolia will release the film Stateside theatrically in two parts early next year after debuting it via On Demand.
After two earlier films with von Trier, "Antichrist" and "Melancholia," this third collaboration represents Charlotte Gainsbourg's most fearless and also finest hour as she carries the film with ease. To say her character isn't easy to love would be an understatement, but Gainsbourg manages to turn Joe into more than just a mouthpiece of von Trier's ideas.
Novelistic in its chapter-designated structure, anecdotal richness and sensitivity to life's different stages, Nymphomaniac nonetheless shortchanges its central figure by so narrowly defining her. Despite spending four hours with her, except when she's with her father we seldom view her in anything but a sexual context; she never evinces any other interests and her reflective comments are invariably narcissistic, if negatively so.
Racy subject aside, the film provides a good-humored yet serious-minded look at sexual self-liberation, thick with references to art, music, religion and literature, even as it pushes the envelope with footage of acts previously relegated to the sphere of pornography.
Hang on to your seat back, your Bible, or the hand of a friend. Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac bludgeons the body and tenderises the soul. It is perplexing, preposterous and utterly fascinating; a false bill of goods in that it's a film about sex that is deliberately unsexy and a long, garrulous story (two volumes, four hours) that largely talks to itself.
Chaotic and not especially pretty, the film has more of the punkish, radical spirit of Von Trier’s ‘The Idiots’ or ‘Dogville’ than the gloss or contained drama of ‘Melancholia’ or ‘Antichrist’ – although the nominal British setting and interest in religion and a promiscuous woman nod to ‘Breaking the Waves’ too.