Film: ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. I’ Stimulates…to a Point

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash
Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1
| Directed by Lars von Trier | Not Rated

large_3lVe9Os8FjpX1VgtdT9VFnbqs5fI must confess: I’m not quite sure how to confront my review of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Vol. I.

It’s not that I don’t know what I feel towards the film—I do. I just don’t know how exactly to assess it. Should I view it as its own individual film, or the first part of one long movie?

Considering that this version is the first film on Trier’s filmography not to get the official green slip of approval from the director himself, I guess it doesn’t completely matter how I grade the movie. I mean, it is still his film, and he will still get the blame or praise of the movie. But I shouldn’t have to guilt myself too much over whether I am being as liberal to the filmmaker’s work as I should be.

As the first of two “volumes,” this first chapter of the life of a self-professed nymphomaniac named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as she professes her life story to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) after he finds her beaten and passed out in an alley. As they discuss her life and her naughty deeds, they discuss the worth of her character.

Based on the slivers of footage that was shown during the credits from the second part of this film series, it would seem that all the really crazy shit is going to go down in the next movie. As a result, this one, while certainly good at establishing character, is a bit dry and sluggish in its delivery.

The primary reason for this is because, throughout the movie, Trier never really answers the question that is in the viewer’s mindset, which is: why he is devoting four hours of film to tell this girl’s story? I mean, there are certain segments here that are interesting, but there is nothing especially notable in this movie that explains why this was not brought down to a two hour—or even three hour—movie.

See, unlike last year’s Blue is the Warmest Color, this movie’s decision to go beyond the 140-minute mark isn’t necessarily earned. Although both are intimate in their portrayals through studying their female character’s sexuality—very explicitly, for the record—Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 feels padded and excessive to a fault.

For the record, before this, I only have seen two of Trier’s movies, which were his last two: Antichrist and Melancholia. Even though neither was perfect in my opinion, for different reasons, I respected and appreciated both in particular for their opening minded looks at heavy topics like depression and lost.

With this movie, though, I’m not quite sure what the writer/director’s point here is. I can’t completely judge yet, because I have only seen the first part of this two-part story, but I don’t quite see what the point is of this story. Are we studying the depravity of sexuality in our culture, or the over-fixation we have towards sex? Is he trying to test the endurance of how much sex we can willing watch on the big screen? Or is he just interested in telling the story of a girl who has sex—a lot?

Truthfully, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem, at least so far, that he really has a point. Which, in turn, makes for a rather dull movie at times, especially considering how stretched the story is already.

But, there is no mistaking that Trier’s is a talent director with a particular warped vision. For all my criticisms, Nymphomaniac: Vol. I is a well-made movie. The acting is strong, the direction is tight and the writing, while a bit all over the place, is well-written in a thoughtful way that I was not expecting from a movie with such a title.

However, what truly makes the movie passable, at least so far, is its dark sense of humor. Through this, Trier is able to not take himself or his subject matter too seriously, which, in turn, makes for a more enjoyable film. There is always the risk that this movie will get too far up its own ass. But through this dry sense of comedy, most notably in the scene with Uma Thurman, the movie works particularly in its twisted, demented little way.

If I have to give credit to Trier in one regard, at least, it will be that he certainly knows how to give his movies unique and memorable opening sequences. This movie is no different. Although this one is quite as beautifully disturbing as Antichrist or as just plain gorgeous as Melancholia, this movie certainly knows how to throw its audience for a loop and get them invested in the story.

As I said, I am essentially reviewing half a movie, so this is weird for me to write. I can’t promise I will like the second half of this story, because I barely enjoyed the first one, but I will say that Trier’s has crafted another distinct and well-made film. Even if this one doesn’t quite have as much of a point, at least so far.


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