I was introduced to Lars Von Trier in my first year of university, when a friend in my residence at King’s rented Europa and insisted I watch the film before he return it. I could tell immediately that the director of this film was a master at his craft, and I thought the movie was very interesting and well made. But since then I haven’t seen much of his work, though I’m always interested when I read about it, and tell myself that at some point I should check out whatever his latest controversial film is.
I suppose if a movie called Nymphomaniac doesn’t get your attention, not much else will. It took a title like this to finally make me get off my tuchus and go and see one of his films (though recently I did see Melancholia on Netflicks – wasn’t that crazy about it). I expected to see an interesting, incite-ful, and ridiculously racy film, and I would say that I walked away pretty satisfied on that account. Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 is both hilarious and hilarious what you would expect a European enfant terrible of film to make of a film about nymphomania.
The movie begins with old man Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finding Joe (a typically transcendent Charlotte Gainsbourg) beaten and bloodied lying on the street. She won’t allow him to get an ambulance, so he takes her into his home and cares for her while she tells him the story of her life and how she ended up where he found her. As she does, Seligman finds parallels between her story and fly fishing, and Joe’s recollections are wrapped around forms inspired by things she sees in Seligman’s house, like a cake fork and a tape of Bach.
There are a lot of things in the movie that aren’t exactly pleasurable experiences to sit through, but amazingly, the film also finds amazing humour in some of the most horrible things. For example, there’s a scene in which a woman (played with spectacular aplomb by Uma Thurman) brings her three children to see the home of Joe, who has just (unintentionally) seduced her husband away. I guess it understandably doesn’t really sound hilarious on paper, but it plays out amazingly as Thurman’s character performs the world’s greatest guilt trip on her husband, giving him an adorable plush pillow made by one of their cherubic sons “for daddy”, as well as the keys to the car – “the children should get used to taking the bus.” Likewise, it turns lewdness to beauty, like when Joe compares three of her more notable lovers to the three parts of a polyphonic piece of music.
Sometimes the European artyness of the film is so bombastic that it seems borderline parodic, but luckily the film has more than enough grit and intelligence – and Von Trier some small level of restraint – to keep it from being swallowed whole up its own pretentious ass. Assuming you can handle seeing an absurd amount of c*cks in a film, Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 is not only an outrageous work of European art-house cinema, but also an incredibly funny and entertaining film with a phenomenal cast. At times, it’s even touching. (Emotionally, that is).