Film Review: Nymphomaniac I & II

HeaderFilm Stills: Nymphomaniac Words by Billie Jenkins

I’ve just sat down with a nice cup of tea to soothe myself after spending the evening in the company of Nymphomaniac I & II, the latest (and much hyped release) from Lars Von Triers. Unfortunately even my cup of tea has not been unscathed by my time spent in Triers world (nor the spoon used to stir it), for six hours ago that is where the journey began – a simple cup of tea opens up the space for a remarkable story to be heard. The well documented release follows the life of Joe who rampantly explores her sexuality, prioritising it through most periods of her life. Before you ask, it wasn’t as explicit as I had prepared myself for, nor as it had been hyped to have been. The speculation prior to its release almost seemed to suggest Nymphomaniac may qualify to be the first porn film with a proper storyline. However, my surprise at the lack of hardcore obscenity was quickly overcome. The promise of titillation always does make one forget that images of just sex happening are remarkably boring. It is actually beyond the skin, in the people, where the real interest lies; and Nymphomaniac is no different.

Through Joe’s accounts of the relationships she has formed there is a remarkable and colourful exploration of human sexuality. The photography, stunning and intelligent as ever, adds a visual playfulness to these relationships. One of the most wonderful scenes was an account of three significant lovers laid out side by side; one who carefully tends to Joe, a leopard at the jugular, and the one who is loved. Dividing, and stereotyping sexual roles is something frequently done by the film. Many of the scenes pastiche the imagery of porn, sometime with obvious allusion but sometimes in more subtle, domestic ways such as the brightness of Joe’s bedroom paired with lights more in common with stage lighting than a bed side lamp. This feels purposeful, as with the frequent references to the ridiculousness and convenience of certain events, the stereotypes fit to easily to be a whole truth. This feels appropriate however, because to delve into human sexuality to the depth she does Joe deliberately seeks out the extremes of the spectrum. For this reason the subject is not an accurate portrayal of sex but an intensified, vivid montage of aspects which may manifest to varying degrees in all of us.

One of my frustrations with the film is the tone of the conversation surrounding the story is told from, between Joe and a stranger who found her assaulted. Although there are clear reasons why considered, moral debate may play a central role in the narrative, the over-intellectualising gets a little stiff (not the good stiff Joe would enjoy). The moral conclusions made at the end are particularly dampening (again not he good damp Joe would enjoy), cheesy even. The energy of the tale is slowly deflated with Da-Vinciesque numbers and arguments on the finer points of modern definitions of sexuality. I was rather hoping those ideas would delivered with a bang, rather than broken down with Kantian precision as an afterthought. Something tells me Larry Clarke’s Kids wouldn’t have benefitted from a middle-aged Telly explaining about the finer points of respect for women.

Nymphomaniac has done something really fantastic, with its beautiful reinterpretation of a visual language that has been left unsatisfyingly neglected by mainstream cinema. Even the significant media coverage the work has received opens an exciting door for future work to feel more comfortable censorship does not always make the payday. This is probably one of the most interesting films you’ll watch this year, and you wont have to travel to London, Liverpool or a University to see it. Be careful though, it will take you a while to see your cutlery draw in the same way again.

Sent from my asshole.

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