Nymphomaniac Volume 1 Review: No Holding Back

Photo Credit:http://comalandfilms.wordpress.com/tag/nymphomaniac-vol-1/

About halfway through the first volume of Lars von Trier’s sex drama, there is a slideshow of male genitalia as the lead describes her preferences. That is but a taste of what you are in for with Nymphomaniac.

Von Trier has created the darkest sexual coming of age story I have ever seen. From the time Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) discovers her privates to the cliffhanger of an ending leading to Volume 2, the director doesn’t hold back showing the sexual experiences that have shaped Joe and brought her to her currents state of mind.

We start with Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finding Joe in the street bloodied and unconscious. He takes her in and they discuss love, art, and fly-fishing through Joe’s most intimate anecdotes.

After losing her virginity, she and a friend compete for how many men they can sleep with on the train, the prize being a bag of chocolates. When Seligman equates this contest to fly-fishing, von Trier’s abruptly thrusts every detail of how the metaphor works into the script. It’s self indulgent and a bit maddening, just as most of the director’s films.

But Nymphomaniac is a character study that is actually quite fascinating when you ignore all of von Trier’s auteur moments. When the characters and the story speak for themselves, the director is at the top of his craft. But by the third mention of fly-fishing, it feels like the artist is speaking for them.

Of course a character study like this needs an ending, so there’s no real payoff for Joe. Luckily, Volume 2 comes out in just a few short weeks. But that makes it difficult to judge the first half on its own.

Divided into five chapters in a way that Quentin Tarantino fans will scream “rip off” (although, von Trier makes art films, not blockbusters disguised as art films, like Tarantino), the individual tales work incredibly well, each with moments of humor and tragedy, giving Nymphomaniac a wider range of emotion than expected.

The true test, however, will be how this auteur can end this provocative drama in a rewarding manner. Therefore, the success of Nymphomaniac Volume 1 rests entirely on where its second half goes.

What I can say about this film is that it’s clever, surprisingly affective, and full of unforgettable scenes. It also suffers from an auteur who doesn’t know how to dial back being an auteur and Shia LaBeouf’s putrid British accent (couldn’t finish this review without saying it). But so much of it is good in a way the MPAA hardly ever lets us see. Depending on how Volume 2 pans out, the grade below could be bumped up or down, but it’s hard to deny the craft that went into this film and how effective von Trier’s unconventional techniques are. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

 

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