Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: The Moans Are Growing

Words by Billie Jenkins

On February 22nd Nymphomaniac Part I will be released in UK cinemas, and will potentially be received as one of the most controversial films of recent times. It is the first work of director Lars Von Triers since he moved out of the public eye in 2011, after an incident at the Cannes in which he joked he sympathised with Hitler. He was swiftly ejected from the event by festival organisers as his comments drew press attention, and has since made a vow of silence in the media. Yet the noise surrounding his most recent work remains loud and clear, and provocative as ever. The film has already received a huge amount of attention, both positive and negative, whilst those critics who have viewed it frequently refer to the screenings as an ’ordeal’ or ’violent journey’, leaving them ’battered’, ’bruised’ and always ’affected’. Are you ready?

The film covers the sexual history of Joe, a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, from childhood (Quote: ’I discovered my cunt at age two’) to middle-age where she speaks to us from. It boasts a superb cast including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, and newcomer Stacey Martin who has received wild accolades for her performance as Young Joe. Over the course of the film Joe, played by Gainsbourg, recalls experiences of sexuality from her bed, describing the events to a man who finds her beaten in an alleyway and brings her to his home to recover.

The controversy comes from many aspects of Nymphomaniac, most vehemently for it’s explicit nature. Porn stars were used to achieve the many, many scenes depicting sexual acts, the resulting footage combined through CGI with the title actors. This has thrown up debate whether the dividing line between artistic cinema and pornography had been to far crossed this time. Yet, the ’just a sordid old man line’ has not stood up to his past works, so why this one? The violence of some of the scenes has also raised eyebrows, if not the physical abuse on screen the violence of the images on the audiences sensibility have been scrutinised. The second instalment has was banned in Romania, deemed too offensive even for the most adult of eyes. Further, there are the montages of cocks that flash up on screen throughout, the backlash that Von Trier is unnecessary cruel and exploiting of his female roles, Shia LaBeouf turning up to the Berlin premiere wearing a brown bag over his head,  and the accidental showing of its explicit trailer to some Florida school children. The ad campaign holds no punches either, depicting each star at the point of orgasm. Its conception came about from Lar’s desire to be clear about the film without needing to come back into the public eye and speak after the Cannes incident, an attempt to send a clear message about its content which may be understood by everyone, “except nuns, monks and children”. FYI – I have never been so attracted to LaBeouf.

This films are intended as the final instalment of Lars’s ’Trilogy of Depression’, alongside Melancholia (2011) and AntiChrist (2009), some of The most visually stunning of his works. This, and the stills released, give hope Nymphomaniac will be as visually intense as it’s subject. At first the deep sexual energy of Kirsten Dunst moon-bathing in Melancholia came to mind, and originally I envisioned this realised in a setting of dirty mattresses and tressed up in rope. Yet the implications are that Nymphomaniac has more in common with its sister Antichrist, with critical responses often stating it is, for a film so full of sexual encounters, almost wholly unseductive.

This atmosphere may hold a key to the heat rising around the film. Reports suggest the film is to obscene not to be considered pornographic, yet to emotionally harrowing and thoughtful to fulfil the role we are used to seeing similarly graphic material take on. Star Skarsgård bluntly entered the debate, arguing Nymphomaniac cannot be pornography as pornography is there ’to make us wank’. However as the film has purposefully utilized imagery of that genre how are we to understand it? Only on February 22nd we can decide for ourselves, but we’ll be thankful the cinema will be dark enough to hide our faces when the time comes.

Nymphomaniac Part I will be in cinemas from February 22nd. A showing of Nymphomaniac Part I & II will be available on its release date in selected cinemas and VOD, with introductions by the cast.


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