UK Release Date: 22nd February 2014
Runtime: 117 minutes + 124 minutes
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia La Beouf, Uma Thurman, Jamie Bell, Christian Slater, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Willem Dafoe
Synopsis: One woman tells a stranger about her turbulent life as a self-diagnosed sex addict.
Lars von Trier is one of the most controversial figures in the world of cinema, whether he’s showcasing genital mutilation in Antichrist or shocking the world with his comments about Adolf Hitler at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. The next logical step from all of that is obviously a four hour movie about sex addiction, right?
Found beaten in an alleyway by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a self-confessed “nymphomaniac”. As she recovers in Seligman’s hospitality, she recounts her journey from her youth (Stacy Martin) to now, including her experiences with occasional partner Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), a brutal sadist (Jamie Bell) and a scorned wife (Uma Thurman).
For starters, it’s pointless to consider Nymphomaniac as two movies. It’s clear that the film is one story and the split is inserted solely for cinema audiences. This is best filmed as a single film with an interval.
| "Perhaps the only difference between me and other people is that I’ve always demanded more from the sunset."
Much of the pre-release publicity focused on two things: Shia LaBeouf’s very public decline into insanity and the use of body doubles for unsimulated sex scenes throughout Nymphomaniac. But the film is about far more than this.
Gainsbourg and Skarsgård are both terrific as the two opposing sides of the virtue-sin coin. For almost opposite reasons, neither attaches any significance to love, creating two icy characters whose analysis varies from Joe’s wild passion to Seligman’s detached deadpan.
The two leads are surrounded by a galaxy of stars in minor roles. Uma Thurman is the pick of the bunch as a hilariously vitriolic woman scorned and Jamie Bell sheds his Billy Elliot image for good as the perpetrator of a genuinely difficult to watch act of sexual sadism. The true star of it all though is Stacy Martin who does a stellar job as the younger, more experimental, version of Joe.
| "Love distort things. Or even worse, love is something you’ve never asked for. "
Despite its four-hour runtime, Nymphomaniac never feels long or overly ponderous. The episodic narrative allows for repeated gear changes that keep the film feeling fresh. Lars von Trier is a unique storyteller, with his tale taking turns from drama, to erotic thriller, and even almost to the level of a horror movie at times. The controversial Dane is a dab hand at dialogue too, crafting everything from the sublime to the depraved.
Nymphomaniac veers occasionally into indulgent, pretentious navel-gazing or pointless shock tactics (like the awful final scene), but when it’s on song, it’s an entertaining ride.
Pop or Poop?
Arriving on a wave of controversy, Nymphomaniac does a great job of distinguishing itself as a solid, intelligent film.
Powered by a series of formidable acting performances, the film is an intriguing and often shocking look at love and sex. It is occasionally hamstrung by von Trier’s reliance on shock tactics, but remains an epic slice of arthouse entertainment.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.