Nymphomaniac (2013) and (2014)

Volume I

Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 Cc 2013. Director: Lars von Trier
Nymphomaniac: Volume 1
Cc 2013. Director: Lars von Trier

Last night I hunkered down in our living room and proceeded to watch this film, despite its salacious title. I had previously read a lot of articles in regard to this film, and I must say, I was utterly intrigued and hoped that it wasn’t going to turn out to be a cheap and tawdry film. I was pleasantly surprised. Like many filmophiles, I cannot watch a film without knowing something about it.

In the past, I have seen only heard of Lars von Trier. I have read about his avant-garde film styles and his lack of fear in being a bit different, and I like that. There are too many movies (and yes I called them movies, not films) out there that are vapid and lack any form of originality. Would you not prefer every time, to watch something that inspired you rather than just cheap thrills to merely keep you entertained? This film is nothing more than what the title entails. A film about the story of one nymphomaniac. My first thoughts were consumed by the fearing factor of only sex. More and more sex. But it wasn’t. This films seeks to not only discuss the personality traits of an addict, but rather the story of a woman, who in the end has a lot more problems than being a mere addict. Volume 1 comprises a small group of persons, with 3 of them being Joe (the protagonist, played by a very capable Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin). This film is sprinkled with famous faces, and very short but effective dialogue. The conversations between present day Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) delve into topics of music, love, lust and religion, resulting in them all linking and looping into one another as well as the central story.

These exchanges are rather deliberate on the director’s path. The scenes feel a bit stiff, and the question and answer flow are very tight and direct. I personally not mind the manicured nature of this type of exchange. There is comfort in the narration being this structured. The audience has a sense of trust that the story will unfold in a manner that is pleasant and understandable. Like many old novels where 2 strangers meet and begin to have a philosophical conversation about what life really is, this film follows suit. To me, a story such as this is classical, and a strong method of retelling.

Volume 1 does not contain as much shock value as I had anticipated. There are very open sex scenes, but none are arousing or titillating in any way. Actually they are very uncomfortable to view. The sound choices and the natural and unflattering poses and gestures, make the entire scene completely carnal but unpleasant at the same time. Von Trier choses to represent sexual need and enjoyment by flashing images of trees, water, sky, mannerisms and other basic nuances to represent these desires. Joe’s sexual needs are not exemplified as destructive just yet. She is still very much enjoying her insatiable want, and sees nothing harming and hurtful in her actions. Only in her retrospectives do we see that her point of view has changed. Volume 1 pulls the blinds back on an addiction that is still rather innocent. Joe, at present realises the hurt and pain, but all the scenes we are privy to in her past, are still new and fresh.

From an aesthetic vantage point, I like the use of no specific time frame for the flashbacks. We cannot say for certain what timeframe the present is set in. All we know is that the surroundings are familiar enough to be an abstracted “present day”. The use of retro-styled clothing and machinery, tells the audience that the past is in the past, but we don’t know, time wise, how far away from the present really is. As well, the flashbacks aren’t done in chronological order, but we have a sense that one thing happened before or after another, but the passing of time is still very obscured. I enjoyed this form of narration for it made you focus on the story and what the protagonist wanted you to know, and that is all. There is always discussion on the subjectivity of the retrospectives, that her point of view can and is ultimately swayed by her future understanding of the past experience, but the audience is okay with this. The narration style is very safe and strong, allowing the viewer to sit back and feel confident that the story being told is clear, neat and intriguing.

I am yet to view Volume 2. From the snippets provided in the credits of Volume 1 I believe the most shocking and disturbing recollections are yet to come. It is no short of a destructive story and already we can see this from the opening scene of Volume 1. The audience is already invested in Joe’s interest. We as the viewer want to see her survive and will feel as she feels as the story unfolds. Despite the fact that we know Joe’s character is fuelled by her own needs and that alone, we want her to be safe. This film is a definite must see. I will say that I was skeptical to view this film in a public space and I still agree with that. This film is not for the prude or for the young viewer. The story is written for a person who is not just sexually experienced but rather for someone who has experienced sex and love. I say this because, in order to understand Joe, you have to understand what sex and love means to the individual. This is a very adult film, for the open minded. I hope that on reading this review, you give this film a chance. It is different yes, but it is fantastic in its mechanism. I will rate this film a 4 out of 5.

Volume II


Honestly, I had very high expectations for this film, and sadly I was disappointed. I sat to watch Volume II about 10 days after viewing Volume I and despite the time lapse on my part; this film dropped the ball tremendously. I was bored for most of the viewing. The narration was not as tight and strong as Volume I; the memory sequences were very short and not at all as interesting as in Volume I. I felt as though Von Trier should have tacked on an extra 45 mins onto Volume I and make it just a very long film.

What was surprising was that there was nothing that was as hard hitting as the trailer and the reviews had suggested. I don’t know for certain the restrictions that the Director was confronted with, but there was so much that could have been explored in the initial setup to make this a very outstanding film. I felt as though Volume I had a lot of minimal shock value and set the audience up for some very disturbing scenes in her future life, but rather than live up to this, the scenes were shortened, almost on purpose curtailed. For instance, the memory of Joe having intercourse with 2 men, set the scene up for something that could have been very brash, crude and honestly difficult to watch. Rather than take this path set out, the scene was boiled down to the 2 men arguing on which position they wanted and Joe, getting dressed and walking out of the room, without the men even realising. To me this was a deliberate omission that cheapens the film a lot. I was expecting this scene to point out the mechanical nature of her addiction. That it was the point in her life where her addiction forced her to become a machine for the sack of intercourse. I expected to feel sorrow for Joe, to see people use her addiction for their own means and frankly to be upset by the crude use of the body.

This was not the only scene that was short lived. Her most recent recollections were rather immature and frankly not at all pitiable. Her reason for being in the alleyway in the initial opening scene is answered by a mere feud of jealousy and cheating. Joe of all people should have understood the compulsions to cheat, for she even addressed a memory to that belief, yet, she tries to kill her lover’s other, and it backfires and she gets beaten in the street. There could have been so many other outs for the final story yet the director chose to take the path of jealous partner. This was very disappointing for jealously was never described in Joe’s personality. It felt juvenile and lacked substance.

Lastly, the ending was a complete turn of events that left the audience completely dissatisfied. I am not going to give away the ending, however, the turn of events portray Suellan into a misogynist pig and Joe a victim. My only explanation for this ending is that the Director wanted to further prove that he is in control of what the viewer sees; that this is indeed a story and the Director choose where it goes. Another film that does similar is “Betwix” by Francis Coppalla. The entire film is a journey into a world that you cannot tell if the protagonist is awake or asleep and the story twists and turns so much that you cannot guess what will happen. Unlike “Betwix”, Nymphomaniac Volume II does not elude clearly to this plot. Therefore the ending is very abrupt and absurd.

Sadly, I rate this film a 1 out of 5. I know that sounds harsh, but I was truly expecting something very hard hitting and pushing the boundaries and this film did not deliver. My only recommendation is to watch this film only if you have seen the first instalment, otherwise, Nymphomaniac Volume II maybe one to skip in the Lars Von Trier repertoire.

Happy Viewing!
Saabira Razac