Watch Nymphomaniac: lust in the time of Von Trier
As you’d expect from the provocative title and poster, the controversial film from Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, shown in two parts (Volume 1 and Volume 2), preoccupies itself with its lead’s history of nymphomania.
Discovered after a severe beating, a bruised and battered Joe is taken to a place of safety by a kind stranger. She gradually warms to the non-judgemental stranger’s presence, telling him of her unusual compulsion, her childhood and sexual experiences.
Starting at an age where she was experimenting with her sexuality, a series of chapters unfurl in which she describes daring encounters with hundreds of partners. Identifying men in her life over whom she had the greatest influence and seductive power, she unpacks her addiction as a self-empowering sexual liberation.
Favouring lust over love, she recounts turning points in her life in the form of a confessional to her attentive rescuer.
Using handheld cameras, von Trier creates a sense of spontaneity, maintaining a warped sense of humour through tonal shifts and unexpected cutaways.
Nymphomaniac Volume 1 and Volume 2, now streaming on Showmax, features a first-class cast including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe and introducing Stacy Martin as the younger Joe. Each respected in their own right with some re-teaming with von Trier, the star power adds weight to the drama, even if only appearing in one or two scenes.
A director associated with breaking boundaries, von Trier’s most shocking film is perhaps Nymphomaniac, so frequently graphic it becomes normalised. Clocking in at almost five hours, his back-to-back film experience is definitely not for sensitive viewers.
While interwoven with erotic sexual acts that verge on pornography, it’s also a serious and contemplative drama, propagated by its stellar cast and some fine performances.
Dealing with underage sexual encounters, sadomasochism and paedophilia, the voyeuristic film is laden with frequent nudity, sex and sexual violence. While von Trier’s powerful film deals with a spectrum of sexual misadventures and deviations, it also grapples with abortion, almost tipping into the realm of a medical video.
To further the film’s art-house propensity, von Trier leans on art, classical music, literature and eclectic symbolic elements as diverse as trees, fly-fishing and firearms. Using handheld cameras, he creates a sense of spontaneity, maintaining a warped sense of humour through tonal shifts and unexpected cutaways.
Extreme close-ups of un-simulated sexual acts, full-frontal nudity, coarse language… cinema doesn’t get much more explicit than Nymphomaniac. At times, the content is so realistic you wonder how von Trier convinced Stacy Martin to take the unfettered role of the younger Joe.
The young French actress had a baptism by fire, having to get comfortable being naked and simulating sexual acts, which were carried out and digitally transposed onto her porn-star body double.
The films grapple with the hedonistic and euphoric aspects of nymphomania but also focus on some of the harsh realities of self-abuse and sexual addiction. It’s a provocative double feature that attempts to relay a nymphomaniac’s lifelong struggle to comprehend and make peace with her compulsion. While interwoven with erotic sexual acts that verge on pornography, it’s also a serious and contemplative drama, propagated by its stellar cast and some fine performances.
Nymphomaniac Volume 1 & Volume 2 is an explicit drama and reflective character study. The film’s shock value and contentious subject matter are accentuated by its primal appetite. While the performances are good, it’s difficult to connect with the extreme characters, who are essentially pawns in a titillating yet alienating confessional tale.