Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NYMPHOMANIAC VOL I Review - Javi's Take


Directed by: Lars von Trier
Written by: Lars von Trier
Starring: Charlotte Gainsborough, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBouef, Stacy Martin Willem Dafoe, and Uma Thurman
Synopsis: When a man find a woman passed out and bloodied in an alley, he takes care of her and is treated to her life story.

Lars von Trier is one of the most exciting directors, in my opinion. His reputation seems to negatively skew perception of his works. Then again, his newest release is a four hour movie about a very sexual woman recounting her numerous escapades could also be a big reason why he is constantly seen as a button-pusher. This is a very interesting movie to review because this is only the first of two volumes, which is an increasingly common thing nowadays at least when it comes to young adult movie adaptations. This is, however, not very common with hard R-rated sexual dramas. von Trier originally envisioned this as a four hour opus to be played all at the same time. But since the movie is commercial risky given its subject matter, it made commercial sense to split the movie.

Let's get one thing out of the way, in terms of actual sex, either the hype was too big or it was my own skewed view, but even when the sex was occurring, it was not anything worse than what you would see in an HBO show. The show is very sexually explicit in the sense that you spend the entire talking about just how much Joe likes sex, and that's just still a pretty scary concept for most people in this country.

So when we strip away (pun intended) the more "controversial" aspects of the movie, we're left with a fascinating conversation between two very philosophically different people, Joe (Gainsborough) and Seligman (Skarsgard). The movie begins with Seligman picking up Joe after he finds her unconscious and beat up in an alley way. He takes her back to his modest home where she begins to basically re-tell her origins story, and everything that led her to this situation via flashbacks, anecdotes, infographics and Seligman somehow tying it all to fly-fishing which is much more fascinating than you would think. Among the best of these infographics is Joe showing us just how easy it is to parallel park, emasculating her lover.

With Volume One, von Trier shows his skill in writing extensive dialogue scenes that would be the same level as Tarantino. There are some various snippets pieces of dialogue so well portrayed by Gainsborough and Skargaard. A personal favorite is a section when Seligman notices the recurring emergence of prime numbers, and then goes on to talk about the Fibonacci sequence and how it pertains to art and life in general. I must have rewound that scene at least ten times just to notice the details of what Skarsgaard was saying, but also HOW he was saying it. It's pretty fascinating.

Here's the tricky part. Is this a good movie on its own? I was talking to classy lady LolaReels on twitter, and she asked the best question, "If you were only able to see the first part, would it still be good?" To answer her, I said yes. The movie does end abruptly with a cliffhanger, and while it tells a good portion of the overall story, it still has its own plot thread. Think of a good serial show that has its own contained plot all while advancing a season long plot.

At this point in their relationship, it seems that von Trier and Gainsborough have a good rapport, and it shows in her performance. There's an overall sadness to Joe that shows through her body language while she tells her story. There are a number of big name supporting characters, but the best one would have to be the short scene with Uma Thurman. Without going into necessarily, it's a very awkward scene that's not only extreme in nature, but also has a lot of feeling behind the performance. Not surprisingly, the worst one is Shia LaBeouf. Not only is he Joe's first lover, but his presence permeates throughout the whole movie, and while he's not being annoying like in the TRANSFORMERS movies, there's very little chemistry between him and the actress that plays young Joe, Stacy Martin, at least within the context of how their relationship is portrayed.

NYMPHOMANIAC is needlessly controversial when you realize that the sex serves the higher purpose of depicting a very sad, but strangely confident woman. While it's not telling the complete story arc, it does a solid job of telling its own story. The movie makes great use of the good relationship that Gainsborough and von Trier have had, despite the director's own harsh methods.

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