Last weekend, my friend and I decided to head down to Leicester’s fantastic Phoenix Independent cinema for a fairly one-of-a-kind film event that I think i’ll struggle to forget. The event in question was the five hour screening of Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’, complete with parts one and two of the film introduced by certain cast members followed by a live Q&A streamed directly from the Curzon cinema in Chelsea, London. This was the first time the film was to be shown to an audience in the UK – naturally, we felt like this was something that we didn’t want to miss out on.
Lars Von Trier is a Danish Director notorious for making extremely controversial films that generate powerful audience responses. After watching Von Trier’s harrowing, semi-pornographic ‘The Idiots’ as well as the vicious diatribe against American society that is ‘Dogville’, I knew that his latest effort would be similarly shocking. So with a four hour long film divided into two parts documenting the life of a woman suffering from sex addiction, there was no disappointment on the shock factor. Charlotte Gainsbourg is fantastic as the troubled, self-deprecating ‘Joe’, as is promising newcomer Stacey Martin, who plays the character in her younger years. Another long-time Von Trier collaborator Stellan Skarsgard is brilliant as usual, playing the asexual intellectual ‘Seligman’, who rescues a beaten-up Joe, bringing her back to his house where we hear the troubled woman’s life story through her large variety of sexual encounters. As you can imagine, this is not easy viewing in the slightest; with frequent graphic sex scenes and brutal S&M violence, it goes without saying that this is a film you DO NOT want take your parents to. Although scenes such as these occur throughout, it has to be said that part 1 of the film makes for more comfortable viewing than part 2, where we are introduced to the menacing yet calculated ‘K’, a master of sadomasochism expertly played by Jamie Bell. The only casting decision that throws up a serious question mark is Shia Labeouf, as Joe’s lover, Jerome. Although I’ve never been irritated by Labeouf as an on-screen presence in the past, his shocking British accent manages to cover Australian, South African and bad cockney pronunciation in the space of one sentence. The actor’s murdering of vowels only seemed to add to the absurdity of the film but in an entirely negative way. That said, there are some brave, yet astounding performances all round; Uma Thurman’s hysterical pantomime of the wronged wife is equally hilarious yet moving.
It is important to note that amongst all of the physical and emotional turmoil that the film depicts, there are some very interesting and powerful notions raised about misogyny, feminism, promiscuity and sexuality. These notions are deftly raised by the curious interplay between Joe and Seligman, a meeting of two extremely contrasting minds that produces some very humorous moments. This is a film that will make you speechless as you gasp, laugh and despair at such madness presented before your very eyes. I do personally believe however that such a film can achieve its aims in a shorter running time – I dread to think what the over 5 hour original cut is like! Lars Von Trier is unmistakably bold yet frustrating as a filmmaker from an audience perspective; his films are ceaselessly provocative, complex and deeply psychological – Nymphomaniac is arguably most accomplished in this sense. It’s just a shame that whenever I watch a Von Trier film, I usually feel the need to go sit in a darkened room in an attempt to restore my sanity.