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  Nymphomaniac: Vol. I The Pick-Up ArtistBuy this film here.
Year: 2013
Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen, Anders Hove, Jens Albinus, Tomas Spencer, Felicity Gilbert, Jesper Christensen, Hugo Speer, Saskia Reeves
Genre: Drama, Sex
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) has left his apartment this wintry evening to visit his local shop to stock up on a few supplies, but as he is on his way back he catches sight of a body crumpled in a small court off the main street and goes to investigate. There he finds Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who has been badly beaten but is still conscious: she refuses his requests to call the police or an ambulance, so he persuades her to come back to his home with him so at least she can get out of the cold and have a cup of tea. Once there, he puts her to bed so she can recover, but she is having difficulty sleeping and instead they begin to talk, and that conversation stretches into the night...

Nymphomaniac was originally going to be one mammoth cinematic experience before wiser heads prevailed and the producers cut it into two separate but linked movies. This was Volume One, where we got to know Joe and her problems which she calls nymphomania, though she doesn't appear to have had an official diagnosis. There was one person diagnosing her, however, and that was the writer and director of this Lars von Trier, now well into his statesman of shock cinema phase which he had settled into with some comfort, the odd P.R. disaster aside since his fanbase were ever eager to see anything he could come up with in the belief his peculiar understanding of humanity made for screen alchemy.

But was this serious Lars any more preferable to trickster Lars which suited him rather better? Indeed, had he ever grown out of his trickster phase and was it his audience who were taking him seriously instead? There were still those who would tell you his best work could make them cry even more than they made them laugh, but delve a little deeper and the constant provocation in lieu of sincerity was definitely present, and as Nymphomaniac was part of his trilogy of depression, which essentially meant blaming his lead female characters for the woes of the world, some may have expressed surprise that so few had seen through his deliberate button-pushing when there was so much here gauged to surprise, never mind actually have them think about what they were seeing with a critical eye.

And that critical eye may not observe events playing out with the same acclaim as von Trier's followers, either. What had got the attention initially was the sex scenes, after all you couldn't have a film with nymphomania mentioned in the title without them, and that even extended to the poster where some wiseacre in the publicity department had taken snaps of the cast affecting orgasms and placed them in the advertising for all to see. But in his contrary manner, Lars wasn't out to titillate, he was out to make us feel very bad, and test our patience for an apparently irredeemable woman of his own devising. In this first volume, Joe tells Seligman (and us in the audience) that she is a bad person, and he is sceptical, not accepting that nobody is all bad, yet this film was dead set on proving him wrong.

That was not to say that Joe didn't have her tender moments, as we see her life in flashbacks (where she was played by newcomer Stacy Martin) which is split into chapters, one of those detailing the death of her father, essayed by Christian Slater. This would be all very well except von Trier seemed to be laughing up his sleeve that such a nice character should be ending his days in such pain and humiliation, including a scene where he soils the bed, but more than that was Slater looking extremely healthy throughout which strained an already fragile credulity to breaking point. Otherwise, it was Joe's destructive relationships which occupied us, often destructive for others rather than her herself as she selfishly pursued her next sexual encounter and resulting climax. The actors were made to appear indulging in intercourse through special effects, so that wasn't really Shia LaBeouf getting it on we saw, though perhaps CGI could have been better applied to his wavering accent. The big question for most would be whether they would bother returning for Vol. 2.

[Artificial Eye's Region 2 DVD has interviews with some of the cast as extras (no, Shia doesn't conduct his with a paper bag over his head).]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Lars von Trier  (1956 - )

Notoriously eccentric Danish writer, director and producer, a graduate of the Danish Film School, who has capitalised on international acclaim and disdain in equal measure. Thrillers Forbrydelsens Element and Epidemic started the ball rolling, with distinctive war drama Europa really setting von Trier up as a talent to watch.

Breaking the Waves, the first in a series of victim stories, won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and his fame spread, especially as he had teamed up with three other directors to create the Dogme '95 rules of filmmaking - controversial The Idiots was von Trier's result. Then Dancer in the Dark, a musical starring Bjork, proving he was anything but predictable, and Dogville, a scabrous attack on American small town life.

He was next involved in The Five Obstructions, a documentary which revealed much about his methods. Then, a thematic follow-up to Dogville, slavery drama Manderlay, which was followed by little seen comedy The Boss of It All and most controversially, his relationship goes to hell horror Antichrist.

His drama Melancholia won its star Kirsten Dunst Best Actress at Cannes, but he was ordered to leave after a press conference faux pas, then returned with the patience-testing, two part Nymphomaniac. After a gap, he made bleak horror comedy The House That Jack Built, to more controversy. On television, he created the superb horror series The Kingdom, and he frequently casts Udo Kier.

 
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