A self-diagnosed nymphomaniac recounts her erotic experiences to the man who saved her after a beating.
Nymphomaniac, the latest effort from maverick director Lars Von Trier, is an unusual film in terms of conventional release. Clocking in at 4 hours, and released in 2 volumes, the film seems to be a strange fusion of intimate character drama, whilst being epic in length and scope. The film charts the journey of Joe (played as a young girl by Stacy Martin, played older by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who also narrates) from her first sexual experiences to the present day, when Stellen Skarsgard’s character finds her face down and beaten in an alleyway. Interestingly for a mainstream release, the sex scenes are real and unsimulated, albeit filmed by porn stars and not the named actors, using technology to match up the bottom and top half’s of the characters bodies. Von Trier has sought out to create a controversial tale and he’s certainly succeeded, but is it any good?
It was the great critic Roger Ebert who once said “No good film is too long, yet no bad film is short enough” and this is an excellent way to think when looking for a good film to watch. In terms of Nymphomaniac, the length isn’t so much the problem, although it does start to drag throughout the infinitely less entertaining second volume. The film wants to be a critique on sex, attitudes to sex and to sex addicts, and it’s relatively successful in that, both in portraying the fun aspects in the first volume (the train sequence is a great example of this), and the seedier, more dangerous aspects in the second volume (the bondage sequences stand out in particular).
The first volume is infinitely better, with a lot more lightness to it as Jo’s journey begins in comparison with the darker aspects of the second volume, which don’t work nearly as well for me. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performance is very good, both in the flashbacks and the present day, and the wealth of supporting characters are strong as well (Jamie Bell the pick of the bunch, Shia LaBeouf not so much). Stacy Martin is solid enough as the younger Joe, although she struggles to reach the higher level Gainsbourg is operating at. Overall, the film features some memorable moments, but its inconsistency is frustrating and my engagement tailed off around the 3 hour mark.
Directed By: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellen Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen