Lars von Trier has never been a director that avoids controversy. So when he announced that he was making a porn film, it has been met with more intrigue rather that controversy.
Filmed in two parts, (Volumes 1 and 2) Nmphomaniac tells the story of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Found bruised and battered in an alleyway by a friendly passerby called Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), he kindly takes her back to his flat to nurse her wounds. From this she starts to tell Seligman about her life and her sex addiction. From then we see a young Joe played by new comer Stacy Martin as she finds the joys of having sex with as many people as possible without being able to stop. She finds love in the form of Jerôme played by (the as of now not at all famous) Shia LaBeouf. A random boy she first sleep with only to become her boss years to come. Told in the form of 8 chapters (if you include both films as one), Joe’s story meanders through the stand outs of what is a very active and twitted life. In-between these sections the two main characters stop and have random discussions ranging from fly fishing all the to the state of society.
Suffice to say Nmphomaniac is an odd experience to sit through. On the one hand Lars von Trier seems to have made film that is over four hours long and seems to go off on tangents, debating to himself on- screen. It all seems very interesting but you can’t help but think that Lars is still trying to figure it all out himself. The film itself is split into two parts but it’s one film which anyway you look at it. Both are incomplete without the other, especially with the uncurious cliffhanger ending of Vol 1. Also seeming as all these chapters are about one character and her troubled life, it does get side tracked a lot as Von Trier throws everything at the screen. Bare frontal nudity, graphic sex, weird visuals, morally bankrupt characters, jumpy edits, tense moments married with comedic ones straight afterwards and Rammstein. It’s almost as if the director is playing with us and perhaps it’s this feeling that makes the film less impactful or as controversial as you might expect.
The performances vary ranging from the great, to solid to “sorry what accent is that?” Charlotte Gainsbourg is a competent narrator taking you through the film, even though it is over used to the point that at times her mono english tone starts to get a little annoying and you’d wish you could just sit and watch young Joe’s own actions tell the story. Skarsgård is great as always as the unbiased eyes of the audience,constantly referring to completely different topics. It’s like over hearing two different conversations at once which quite interesting on their own and add to the films more entertaining moments. Considering the length there are many actors and actresses, some have only little screen time less than you might want. Uma Thurman is great even thought she has the one scene, it is hilarious and tragic and incomparable all the same time. Jamie Bell plays an extremely dark role as someone is good at inflicting pain. What’s great about his performance is that he plays him as a simple upfront man, who is very particular about his methods making him all the more disturbing.
Christian Slater does a fine job playing Joe’s father. Seemingly playing a Englishman, Slater rains in his accent that still sounds muddled but gives way to his delicate performance. The same could not be said for the films most high-profile star. To say Shia LeBeouf’s accent is bad would be one thing, however I can not for the life of me figure out what accent is it. I assume its English like most of the other characters but if seems to travel all the way to South Africa and then only to find itself in Australia. Shia’s accent is very well-traveled, in fact I think he may have invented a new accent all together. As for his performance he isn’t playing too much of a stretch as a young jerk off who is selfish and hot- tempered. The real flaw is in his character that I found difficult why Joe would choice him as her dream guy. Even for someone who is as troubled as she is, I just don’t get it. That said the stand out acting wise goes to the new comer Stacy Martin who takes his role and runs with it. Gainsbourg’s Joe is already that the age where she’s tiered and numb where young Joe is full of life and has more of an emotional journey to go through and its her that ultimately stands out from a film that is crowded.
With an extended 5 hour cut that premiered the Berlin film festival, here could be more shocking than the theatrical one, it’s clear that he’s let this story about sex addiction run wild as if he got carried away. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the intention of Lars in the first place. It’s hard to take Von Trier seriously as he doesn’t take himself seriously at all. It’s his taste for being mischievous regardless of the topic. It’s evident in the films closing scene where Trier has said everything he has to say, only to pull blow a raspberry at the audience only for the reason of “why not?…. It’s funny.” I guess it’s a double edge sward. On the one hand you can’t trust anything he does or says with any deep meaning but on the other hand it’s what makes him such an exhilarating film maker to watch..