Love = Lust + Jealousy

Nymphomaniac Vol: 1 and 2

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Director: Lars von Trier

Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Connie Nielsen, Jamie Bell, Stacy Martin, Udo Kier, Mia Goth

Unlike 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen’s handsome New York set film about sex addiction, the highly acclaimed Shame, starring a gorgeous yet libidinous Michael Fassbender, Danish director and auteur, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2 is on an entirely different level.

Explicit, provocative, brutal and shocking, this is von Trier’s seminal work on Freudian psycho-analytic film theory, the nature of sexuality and of society’s views on sexual deviancy and obsession. Warning these two films, making up a total of four hours viewing time is NOT for sensitive or prudish cinema goers.

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Von Trier’s favourite muse Charlotte Gainsbourg (Anti-Christ) stars as Joe, a relentless nymphomaniac who is discovered beaten in a dark city alley way by a seemingly kind mysterious bachelor Seligman played by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Girl with The Dragon Tattoo). As Joe recovers with copious cups of tea in Seligman’s drab apartment she frankly recounts in episodic form her life thus far as a nymphomaniac and the events leading up to her supposed downfall.

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The younger version of Joe is played by Stacy Martin who as a young licentious teenager seduces all the men on the train in a bet with her friend B, played by Sophie Kennedy Clark. The sex scenes are graphic and unrelenting. Her insatiable sexual appetite is temporarily quelled when she meets Jerome wonderfully played by Shia LaBeouf, who has definitely come a long way from his Transformers movies. LaBeouf proves to be superb as the equally lustful Jerome, who apparently sent a sex tape to von Trier as part of his audition for this part in Nymphomaniac. It proves that Shia LaBeouf is willing to take major risks as an actor and more recently as a notorious performance artist.

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Joe as a young girl displays her close relationship with her father played by Christian Slater (True Romance) and her non-existent relationship with her aloof mother played by Connie Nielsen (Gladiator). As Joe’s sexual awakening becomes more ferocious she ventures into some dark territory particularly as she resumes a relationship with Jerome and attempts to settle down and lead a normal existence. All this is shot in grey colours with lots of graphic nudity and sex, with von Trier intentionally deglamourizing sex and sensuality on screen and deliberately punctuating these pornographic images with bizarre directorial screenshots of fly fishing, predators, sunsets and forests.

In between Joe’s sexual adventures all done in flashbacks, is the frank discussion between the mature Joe a scarred Gainsbourg and the supposedly asexual Seligman, who provides some intellectual insights into her sex addiction along with Freudian psychoanalysis and historical anecdotes. As Seligman explains in Volume 2, that all children are born with polymorphic sexual perversions according to Freud which gradually are repressed or discovered  latently as the child becomes an adult and thus manifests itself in later life. This is classic Freudian psychoanalysis. Even Love is equated to Lust+ Jealousy.

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So despite all the subliminal theory and explicit pornography, is Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2 any good? Volume 1 is better than Volume 2, a more superior and controlled film but the entire diatribe about Nymphomania could have been edited into a more concise and elegant film. Then again Von Trier is not one to bow to Western film aesthetics and has never done so. His film 2003 Dogville was shot without sets in a sparse Brechtian style about a close knit community who does not accept outsiders with Nicole Kidman in the lead.

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Nymphomania Volume 1 and 2 is not easy or comfortable viewing, but that its point. Especially Volume 2 where Joe’s sexual addiction takes her into the dangerous world of Sadomasochism, cue a rather sadistic master K played by Jamie Bell of The Eagle and Billy Eliot Fame. There are also brief appearances by Uma Thurman as a wronged wife Mrs H. whose husband has fallen for the nubile, precocious and younger Joe, bravely played by Stacy Martin and Willem Dafoe as Joe’s last employer a shady debt collector.

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What should really be applauded is the bravery that these actors show in starring in such an explicit, unconventional and shocking film including Stacy Martin, Christian Slater, Shia LaBeouf and naturally Charlotte Gainsbourg (Anti-Christ). Audiences might want to walk out in several particularly disturbing scenes, but it’s worth staying until the end of Joe’s confession to Seligman, as all is not what it seems… Those not familiar with Lars von Trier’s previous films should definitely stay away.

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