Our Cornerhouse Pick of the Week is Lars Von Trier’s latest venture: the controversial two-parter ‘Nymphomaniac’
Before I start, let me get rid of the elephant in the room: Sex. We have all had it.
There we go.
I was introduced to the charmingly controversial Danish art house director Lars Von Trier first through the shocking Antichrist in 2009, before the aesthetically stunning Melancholia two years later which left me feeling both powerful and helpless, empty but fulfilled at the same time. I then quickly realised I had found my favourite director and that I needed a new fix.
The natural provocateur and persona non grata at Cannes after he jokingly stated he was a Nazi and “understood Hitler”, has finally returned with the two-part drama Nymphomaniac.
The film follows Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who, after being beaten up in an alley, is found by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) who picks her up and invites her in for tea. There, Joe tells him about her childhood and life as a self-loathing sex addict.
Stacy Martin makes her acting debut as a young Joe in the flashbacks of Volume I. This volume is centred on Joe’s sexual awakening and experimentation in her teen years and early twenties, with her first love Jerôme (Shia Labeouf) and dozens more.
Volume II mostly focuses on the older Joe, now portrayed by Gainsbourg herself, and sacrifices youthful, quirky experimentation for something darker, as the growingly self-destructive Joe is torn between her insatiable sexual appetite and her duties as a mother and a functioning woman in society.
Even though Gainsbourg once again pulls off an impressive performance for Von Trier, it is the beautiful 23-year old Parisian Stacy Martin who steals the show. I have never felt so sure about an actress’ future success since I saw Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone four years ago.
Nymphomaniac is, after Antichrist and Melancholia, the final piece of the amazing puzzle unofficially dubbed as The Depression Trilogy. It is truly impressive how Von Trier manages to make the frequent, much-hyped sex scenes feel so irrelevant, as they end up being used as metaphors and merely a lubricant for an intelligent and philosophical discussion between Joe in her pyjamas and Seligman about society-wide problems, religion and humanity as a whole.
Though Volume II is somewhat of a step down from the first part, much due to the absence of Stacy Martin’s brilliance, Nymphomaniac never loses its grip and is thought-provoking, fearless, fascinating and taboo-challenging from the opening scene until the last genitalia is shown on the screen.
Lars von Trier ends up hitting the G-spot of avant-garde filmmaking with a movie only he could ever make, and gives the open-minded members of the audience one of the most powerful and sensational experiences ever seen in arts.