Nymphomaniac Volume 1 | Berlin Film Festival 2014
Mea Vulva, Mea maxima Vulva. Nymphomaniac Volume 1, the newest magnum opus of Lars von Trier, needs little introduction after its successful bold O-faces worldwide advertising campaign. With the final part of his “trilogy of depression” that began with Antichrist (2009) followed up by Melancholia (2011), von Trier sets out to unmask the darkest corners of female sexuality. A complete sold-out, the shiniest jewel of 64th Berlin Film Festival crown, the film has premiered today in its director’s cut length of 145 minutes – with half an hour of additional, explicitly pornographic footage that will never meet the darkness of your local cinema theatre.
Nymphomaniac Volume 1 is every bit as brilliant as it is provoking. It tells a coming-of-age story of a woman named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), confessing her sinister adventures to a ludicrously naïve yet persistently benevolent stranger named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) who accidentally found her lying beaten on the street.
“I discovered my cunt at age two” – that is how Joe struggles to come to terms when her own biography begins, as she takes us through five extensive chapters of her childhood and teenage years. As Seligman helps Joe to analyse the roots of her sins, misfortunes and everlasting feeling of alienation, we see flashbacks of gorgeous young Joe as a teenager (played by a newcomer Stacy Martin) seducing men in flats, train compartments, bars and offices.
Those familiar with von Trier’s filmography are unlikely to be prudish enough to get shocked by numerous penises, vaginas and blow-jobs in extreme-close-ups. On the contrary – the film is hilarious at times, especially when Mrs H (Uma Thurman) enters the story as a jealous wife, bringing her three children to see their daddy’s “whoring bed” at Joe’s apartment. “Lars kept saying that I’m over acting, but that’s nothing new”, shares Uma at the press conference. But even though Nymphomaniac Volume 1is filled with black humour completely everywhere it can get away with, other times it touches upon subjects like true love, profound loneliness and death with extreme intelligence, subtlety and poignancy. Shia LaBeouf’s performance is heart-tickling, as he gradually becomes the love of Joe’s life, which she never anticipated to happen. And Christian Slater, who plays Joe’s father, is rolling in agony in his death bed almost twice as long as in the theatrical version.
Nymphomaniac Volume 1 storytelling is explicitly visual and graphically illustrative. It is vaguely reminiscent of Peter Greenaway’s film structures – although not as rigidly constructed, and deliberately tongue-in-cheek in its quotation of Fibonacci sequence, fly-fishing techniques and a welter of literary references (The Bible, Arabian Nights, Decameron, Proust, Marquis de Sade to mention a few).
Nymphomaniac Volume 1 is dense and thought-provoking, touching upon a spectrum of human emotions that the viewer can analyse in parallel to Gainsbourg’s soothing voice-over narration. The film ends leaving one starving for more, hinting that the uncut version of Nymphomaniac Volume 2, which will premier in a higher-class festival sometime this year, will be even more hard-core. This is just foreplay.
Nymphomaniac: Volume I is released on 22nd February 2014.
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Watch the NSFW trailer for Nymphomaniac: Volume I here: