Let us talk about sex, shall we?
During one fateful night, an old man by the name of Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) stumbles upon a brutal, beaten and battered-up woman by the name of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Though he does not know much about her, other than the fact that she does not want to have the police or ambulance called in at all, he decides to take her back to his place where he treats her to tea, his warm, cozy bed and even a small pastry as well. During her stay, Joe decides to tell Seligman her life’s story from when she was a youngin’ getting in all sorts of racy, sexual escapades, to the present-day, where it’s clear that she’s seen plenty of a lot and isn’t afraid to talk about it all. In between these stories, the two get into conversations about nature, fishing, nymphs and, randomly enough, cake forks.
Oh yeah, and people do bone, but that’s not the point, you dirt balls!
By now, I’m pretty sure that most of you ladies and gents have heard a thing or two about Lars von Trier’s, self-proclaimed, “Sex Epic”, which, as dirty as I may sound, is something I was looking forward to. No, not because I want to see dongs go in and out of all such places for the sake that I don’t have to worry about SPAM attacking my computer’s hard-drive, but because in the way that I know von Trier’s movies, I know that when he puts his mind to something, it works perfectly.
Okay, so maybe Antichrist was a bit too wacky, maybe even for his own disciples, but that’s another discussion, for another day. The fact of the matter is that when Lars von Trier decides to make a movie, no matter what it’s about (mostly stuff that isn’t in good-taste), you’re going to want to see it, just to understand what all of the fuss about it is for. And when you just add sex to the equation, hell, even in some cases, “real sex“, then you know all hell is going to break loose!!
But here’s what’s so shocking about von Trier’s latest: Despite it featuring a whole bunch of hot, attractive people participating in sexual-acts, it’s never actually hot, or even sexy. Instead, von Trier pulls the rug right from underneath us and just shows us these acts of sexual-promiscuity as if they were happening in real life. Sure, depending on what type of person you are, this may seem like the hottest thing since Janet Jackson’s nip-slip, but for others, it’s not really all that titillating to begin with. Most of that has to do with the fact that von Trier simply doesn’t care too much about the acts, and more or less actually cares about the story itself, and building characters; mainly in our female-protagonist, Joe.
Now, the one problem with this movie is that you can totally tell it’s a first-parter in a two-part series. First of all, that idea upsets me as is – I feel as if the producers and everybody else behind this should have just bit the bullet and made this a three-hour epic of sorts, because when this part of the series ends, it just ends. It doesn’t really stand on its own, and even during the end-credits, we’re shown a “teaser” of what’s next to come in Nymphomaniac: Volume II. I don’t know whose idea it was to think that we needed to cut-down something like this, nor take away Lars von Trier’s edits, but whatever. I guess it’s the reality I have to stick with, regardless of if I like it or not.
So screw me, right?
Anyway, where I was trying to go with that is in our lead character of Joe, we get to see a lot of Charlotte Gainsbourg just looking depressed, angry and very downtrodden. Which is all good since the gal owns it perfectly, but she isn’t nearly as much the star of the show as Stacy Martin is, playing Joe in her younger, wilder days. Martin, despite being a model, actually has a great screen-presence that commands your attention. But not just with her always naked-body or constant O-faces, but with the way she’s able to hold the screen by just being silent. You never know what it is that she’s thinking and you’re always left to wonder what she has to say next, if anything at all. In fact, I got the same impression from Gainsbourg’s performance as the older-Joe, showing us that these two gals are actually the same person, and didn’t really change all that much; except for the fact that their skin got flabbier and more wrinkly. But such is the case with aging, right?!?!?!
But yeah, Martin is great and although I know we’re more often likely to see Gainsbourg a lot more in Volume II, I still hope that we don’t fully kick Martin to the curb, because she’s actually very good and the type of female-actress I could see popping-up in more of von Trier’s stuff, forcing her to do all sorts of crazy shit that I won’t even dare to mention.
Dude’s a crazy bastard, in case you didn’t know.
The rest of the cast that von Trier is able to assemble is, as usual, quite impressive, given the fact that it’s a known-fact by now the type of stunts he pulls in order to get emotionally-draining performances from his actors and actresses. But yet, time and time again, talented, well-known people still sign-up to be in his movies, so who am I to judge, you know? I guess whenever we see a Lars von Trier movie, we should come to expect that Stellan Skarsgård will show up in some form, which I’m fine with since the guy’s a great actor and shows that he’s more than capable of handling whatever weird material von Trier throws his way. Here, as the friendly guy that looks over Joe and takes care of her, in a not-at-all-creepy way, Skarsgård is given a task in which he has to constantly relate Joe’s nutty escapades to other aspects of life, like literature, food, and especially fishing. However, his character never seems like he could be replaced or gotten rid of entirely; he’s there to serve as a voice-of-reason to Joe’s story as she’s telling it and for that, he brings some much-needed perspective. I look forward to seeing where this talk leads them and best of all, to see if they end-up shacking the boots. Crossing my fingers and holding out hope over here.
The newcomers to von Trier’s world of depravity are inspired, if even stranger than I expected. Having Christian Slater, Shia Labeouf and Uma Thurman in your movie is usually very interesting, which here, it still is, it’s just odd since they all have to carry-out British accents that sort of go in and out. However, it’s almost as if von Trier wanted this to happen, just so that he could screw with our minds even more. That, or the fact that nobody who actually was from Britain wanted to work with him in the first place, so why not get three has-beens and an actor that almost everyone in this world hates a bit more than Justin Bieber? See, I know how von Trier thinks, baby! Probably not a good thing to say, though.
Nonetheless, they’re all fine with what they do: Slater poops and pees himself, while having nightmares, but still has enough time to chat with his daughter (Joe) about leaves and each one of their meanings, or something like that; Labeouf, despite seeming as if he is trying a bit hard, is actually pretty hilarious as Jerome, the guy that Joe loses her V-card to, only to then stumble upon him later in life where he’s a bit of a deuche that tries hard to get laid, but can’t help but get the stiff-arm (much like what probably happens to Shia Labeouf in real life); and Thurman, with her one scene, steals the whole movie as the shamed wife who comes to Joe’s place, just to mess with her, the guy she is screwing (Thurman’s character’s husband), and the other guy Joe is screwing, all while her kids look on in absolute fear and silence. It’s nice to see von Trier give some of these actor’s new-lives as actors willing to hang with him and his demanding directorial-process. Though I know that there’s plenty of more faces and talents to come in the next installment, so I guess for now, I’ll just have to wait.
Damn you, whomever it was behind that sham of breaking this up into two movies! Damn you!
Consensus: Though there’s plenty left to be desired for what’s next to come in Volume II, Nymphomaniac: Volume I sill gives us all the dark, awkward aspects of the human-condition, with plenty of sex sprinkled throughout, and never never having it seem distracting or gratuitous.
7.5 / 10 = Rental!!