Review: Nymphomaniac: Part I ★★★★★

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Let’s get it out of the way: Nymphomaniac contains some very graphic scenes. Relating the story of Joe, a self-diagnosed sex-addict, the film is divided in two parts. The first release focuses on her young years discovering and exploring her sexuality and, although censored, the two-hour version which will be available in mainstream cinemas still offers a wide range of male genitals and sexual encounters framed in close shot.

Controversial Lars von Trier, the director, had been longing to make an erotic film for years. Having slowly gained the reputation of an auteur terrible, his Nazi comment at the Cannes Festival in 2011 finalised his international image of a bad boy, and somehow opened the door to this ultimate provocation. As most of von Trier’s films, Nymphomaniac is hard to swallow and conventional reactions are either to hate it or love it.

Passed the meticulous marketing and fierce debates around its genre, what Nymphomaniac really has to offer is a journey through the deepest intimacy of its main character, and a story which slowly denudes admittedly her body but mainly her soul. Whilst the adult version of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is determined to demonstrate her monstrosity by exposing her obsession for sex, the film itself is a sober illustration of various sexual behaviours which do not render their supposedly abnormality. The sex depicted in the film is based on curiosity, games, and sometimes fantasies. It is at the opposite of the Hollywood dramatisation of intimate relationships which only seem to exist in the polarities of meaningless sex and sickening romantic demonstration of love: in Nymphomaniac, people frequently have sex, often cheat, rarely fall in love and repeatedly have to face their illusions.

Unusually build around the conversation between Joe and Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), the crudest aspect of the film lies in its aesthetics. As the director is exposing one of our most primal conduct, he stripped his work of the vivid colours and contrasts that were present in both Antichrist (2009) and Melancholia (2011), and came back to a simplest photography more characteristics of his earlier films.

On the other hand, there is absolutely no doubts that the first part of Nymphomaniac is somehow only comforting and saving the audience for what is coming next. In the interviews released by von Trier’s production company Zentropa, Charlotte Gainsbourg mentions curious wounds on her intimacy which hugely hints at the sadomasochist scene of the trailer. Knowing the climax of Antichrist, it is only legitimate to wonder: Is the worst yet to come?

Nymphomaniac will be released in UK cinemas on the 22nd of February by Artificial Eye, Certificate 18. 

This review is published in association with The National Student. 

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Ex-Film Editor and future ex-MA student, dissecting films since 2006.

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