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 Michael Bergeron
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Nymphomaniac: Volume I and Volume II

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Leon casino, Nymphomaniac: Volume I starts out exactly how Nymphomaniac: Volume II ends – in darkness. Lars von Trier has never been known as a filmmaker who reins it in, and that is certainly the case here.

The films of von Trier are not exactly audience friendly where the audience is the same that would mindlessly enjoy, say, Captain America 2. But for an art house crowd von Trier is the shining saint who can awe the audience with weird philosophical musings spliced together, like a mad scientist trying to create a hybrid creature, with various genres of cinema. In fact, his recent film Antichrist (2009) may his most aud friendly in the sense that it stays rooted in the gothic horror mode.

The Nymphomaniac series might as well be called the cinema of cruelty. We’re always having our noses rubbed in it. The first minute and forty seconds are a blackout with the sounds of the street and dripping water. When sight is instated the scene is revealed to be a back alley on a snowy night and a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is lying on the ground unconscious, and in a bad state. A man happens by (Stellen Skarsgård), carries her back to his apartment and proceeds to nurse her to health. Along the way she recounts her sexual history whilst he makes allusions of sexual conquests and the zen of fishing. In what amounts to a premeditated path of enlightenment Volume I is at times comic and bold, filled with sunsets and plenty of sex, with the occasional foray into grim images of death, whereas Volume II takes a more no-holds barred approach to the material and the viewer’s senses.

The appetite for sex can be like a fish feeding frenzy at the “beginning of a light rain.” Even a passive fish can be seduced by the fly-fishing thrust known as the “insect in trouble.”

Stacy Martin as young Joe plays the innocent version of Gainsbourg and quickly transforms from a wallflower to a full-blown seductress. Shia LaBeouf appears (although he’ll have a bigger part in Volulme II) as a boyfriend who procures a job for Joe while also starting a destructive relationship. Christian Slater is Joe’s easy-going father and has one of the film’s most difficult scenes. Joe’s Father is not the one who gets to film what must have been at-times boring technical sex scenes but rather has to die on a hospital bed as his body purges. Uma Thurman, Connie Nielsen and Jesper Christensen (and others) pop up in smaller roles. Thurman plays the wife of a man who just left her for Joe. She shows up a Joe’s door weeping with her children in tow and asks to have a look at the apartment so she can show her kids “the whoring bed.”100_4117

There are two rules to Fuck Club and the second one is you do not discuss Fuck Club. Disclaimers at the end of both films indicate the scenes with graphic insertion or oral genital contact are digitally enhanced. There’s not any one sex scene that lasts as long as, say, the few actual sex scenes in Blue Is the Warmest Color, but there are a lot and by and large they come off as romantic and instructional in a kind of I’ll-do-anything-once way; with Volume II that drastically changes.

There’s some great musical cues on display from Rammstein and “Born to be Wild” to some more subliminal choices. A genital montage wouldn’t be out of place in a silent film, just out of time. Also a strange mathematical progression unwinds with the structure of the story. We keep being reminded of the separate but intertwined elements of polyphony and at one point Joe even uses (by instinct) the Fibonacci sequence when she perfectly parallel parks her boyfriend’s car, much to his chagrin of having failed at the same task.

Volume II despite it’s dark side has compelling twists that seem increasingly unethical and a parade of name actors many of whom are semi-regulars on the von Trier express: Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe, Jean-Marc Barr and Udo Kier. Both Volume I and Volume II open at the downtown Sundance Cinema Houston starting Friday.

- Michael Bergeron

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